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New works-study private school gives OKC disadvantaged teens door into business world

Jessica Ashe / Red Dirt Report
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OKLAHOMA CITY – You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. This maxim consistently haunts young people. But one new high school in Oklahoma City is about to change that for disadvantaged youth.

Cristo Rey, 900 N. Portland,  is a private Catholic school, opening to a freshman class in the fall of 2018 and admitting another freshman class every year, thereafter, until the high school grades are full. This is not your regular private school. The foremost difference is that all of the students will have a job.

“It really inspires kids who have never considered a career, who have never had a family member go to college,” said Bill Price, Cristo Rey Board Member. “They learn for the first time how exciting it is to have a career. It is their way into the business community.”

Price, the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, is also a member of the Oklahoma State School Board, and acted as the founding Chair of the Board for Cristo Rey. He was instrumental in raising the $2.5 million dollars to bring the school to Oklahoma City and creating the necessary partnerships with businesses. 

Price said Cristo Rey is “a wonderful idea, spectacular.”  

Graduates have a 100 percent acceptance rate to college across the country. More than 30 Cristo Rey High Schools have sprouted across the country since the unprecedented success of the first school in Chicago, founded in 1996.

Cristo Rey’s ethnic makeup varies from state to state, but some things are consistent throughout – more than 95 percent of the students are minorities, usually Hispanic or African American. Another consistency is the school caters to the economically disadvantaged.

(Jessica Ashe / Red Dirt Report)

“If you can afford to go to Cristo Rey, you can’t go there,” Price said.

Although Cristo Rey is a Catholic School, students are accepted from any belief or unbelief.

Cristo Rey has established relationships with employers in Oklahoma City that will offer 125 work-study job opportunities to a team of students so that one student can work the job on Monday, another work it on Tuesday and so on. The employer then pays the school for the position, indirectly paying 60 percent of the student’s tuition. The rest of the operation is funded privately.

In addition, students receive specialized training for the job they will perform. Weeks before the first school bell, students might learn how to use Microsoft Excel or video editing because that is what their job will entail. Cristo Rey will transport the students to and from their worksite. The teams of students will work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday throughout the school year.

Price, who is an outspoken advocate of education savings accounts, said the debate on whether private schools actually diminish the quality of education in public schools is already over in other states. He said it takes over $12,000 every year to educate a student in public schools while 76 percent of the schools in Oklahoma have a D or F rating.

He says Cristo Rey takes students who are performing at one to two grade levels behind and pushes them to perform one or more grade levels ahead. He said it deflates the argument that there are unteachable kids.

Price said they hit some roadblocks along the way. One of the most significant was the campus location. He said they toured buildings and “money pits” that looked like horror movie sets, until they found a recently vacated building on the campus of OSU-OKC. After consolidation of the college’s programs into a new building, the former engineering school was available and will be the new home of Cristo Rey.

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