A New Model to Approach Educating At-Risk Students


It’s a promising new way to approach reaching and equipping high school students, to prepare them for college and career. It’s a combination of information and application.

My friend Jeff Busch just let me in on a little secret — called the Cristo Rey School Network. Have you heard of them?

It’s a new way to approach reaching and equipping high school students, to prepare them for college and career. The network is comprised of 32 schools serving underrepresented urban youth.

Here is the premise: A Cristo Rey High School collaborates with local businesses. A student who enrolls in the school must work a job one day a week at that local business to pay for their expenses (tuition, books, etc.). The other days, they attend classes and work toward graduation and preparation for post-secondary education.

It’s a combination of information and application.

A local company, such as Best Buy or A1 Storage, makes a large donation to a local Cristo Rey School and in return they have one of those students serve in a position each day of the week. This allows for a private education to become accessible to a kid who typically would not be able to afford such preparation. Cristo Rey Network students document how they learn from their jobs and school, love their families and communities, and also serve as leaders in all their environments … at age 15. These are the core foundations of their @15 Campaign.

The Result of This Partnership?

Does it work? Well, 88 percent of the 2013 Cristo Rey graduates enrolled in college upon graduation. The Class of 2008 saw 32 percent receive a bachelor’s degree, which is twice the college completion rate of low-income high school grads.

Like others who read this blog, Cristo Rey Schools advocate for educational reform. They believe that all young people deserve a chance at a quality education. Data demonstrates that the schools in this network are proving that underserved youth can and will succeed in college when given a quality college preparatory experience. One that includes both the classroom and on-the-job training.

What I Like About This New Approach:

1. It combines classroom and work experience.

To enroll, a student understands this is not a free lunch. While tuition is covered, they work for their education, not unlike the College of the Ozarks, where a higher education degree is provided in exchange for weekly work hours in the area the student hopes to build a career. The book learning is augmented with real-life, on-the-job training. This accelerates career readiness and preparation for adulthood.

2. It empowers workplaces, non-profits and schools to collaborate.

For too long, the education world and the corporate world have been silos, where the experience they both offer is very different. Because of this historical separation, today’s classroom does not often prepare a young person for the workplace. In this model, local businesses and NPO’s join hands, working together to prepare a teen for the world that awaits them after school.

3. It pushes the economy forward.

A 2009 report by McKinsey & Company stated that “educational gaps impose on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.” This suggests that if the achievement gap had been narrowed, gross domestic product in 2008 would have been higher by as much as $525 billion. That’s a huge difference. When we employ teens, everyone wins: the employer, the economy and the student. This Cristo Rey Schools’ program increases economic activity and promotes community development.

4. It cultivates young leaders.

Students enrolled in a Cristo Rey High School learn to think like leaders, beginning at age 15. They are encouraged to solve problems around them on the campus and in the community. Leadership is about something far bigger than holding a position or wearing a badge. It’s about service. Graduates think this way, because they’ve had real service experiences during their high school years at work.

So, here’s my question for you:

What could you learn from this new approach? How could you implement some of these methods in your context?

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