Private high school set: Cristo Rey to open downtown with 46 companies behind it

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A private high school that relies on business participation, the first of its kind in Indiana, is set to open downtown in the fall of 2006.

A work-study program designed to help lowincome students pay for tuition and give them corporate work experience is what will set Providence Cristo Rey High School apart from its private and public counterparts throughout the state. Corporate sponsors said it will also give promising students a local business connection, which could help keep them in state after graduation.

“In sports, people start recruiting athletes as early as the seventh grade,” said Mike Dilts, president of Indianapolis-based Shiel Sexton Co. Inc., one of the companies that has agreed to employ the school’s students. “We don’t do that academically and we should.”

The school will be owned and operated by the Sisters of Providence based in Terre Haute, working in cooperation with the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which will provide the site and some startup funding.

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, who will serve as the school’s president when it opens, said school officials are trying to find a suitable location, likely on the southwest or southeast side of downtown.

Shiel Sexton is one of 46 companies that have expressed strong interest in employing Cristo Rey students.

“This was the easiest sale I ever made in all my years in education,” said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ Catholic Education Office. “The response was even more positive than I anticipated.”

Lentz said 46 of the 49 Indianapolis companies approached about being involved with the school’s students said they were interested.

The local Cristo Rey school will recruit a wide range of businesses to participate. The only requirement is that students work in a corporate setting that provides a learning experience.

“We like any program-public or private-that exposes any student to a professional environment,” Dilts said. “We didn’t look at this as a Catholic program. We looked at it as an opportunity to be a partner in our community youths’ education.”

Hagelskamp said although local Cristo Rey officials will look to Indianapolis Catholic grade schools and parishes for student recommendations, students need not be Catholic to attend.

Providence Cristo Rey has already hired an admissions director and will begin marketing the school later this year to educators, potential students and the business community.

In 2006, Providence Cristo Rey High School will open with a ninth grade only, with no more than 100 students. Local school officials said they would add one grade per year until they have a full fouryear high school with a maximum of 400 students. That would give Cristo Rey a student body about one-third the size of Roncalli High School and half the size of Bishop Chatard High School.

First-year operational expenses-which will come from a combination of grants, business payment for student work, and other fund-raising efforts-will be about $1.5 million. By year four, operational expenses will be about $3 million, Hagelskamp said.

Local Cristo Rey officials are already putting together a transportation plan to bus students downtown from around the city and also bus them to and from their jobs. Despite logistical challenges, Hagelskamp said Cristo Rey will offer all the opportunities of other public and private high schools.

“We’ll have a complete academic offering in addition to sports and a variety of other extracurricular activities to make sure this is a well-rounded educational [institution],” Hagelskamp said.

Following protocols set up by the other 11 schools operating nationally under the Cristo Rey model, household income will be a critical admittance factor. Cristo Rey schools have been opened in such cities as Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, with household maximum income limits set as low as $30,000.

“We’ll be working with the poorest of the poor,” Lentz said. “These are students who are looking to go to college, but who might not have the opportunity to prepare.”

The first Cristo Rey School opened in downtown Chicago a decade ago. Hagelskamp said over the last five years, 100 percent of the Chicago school’s students have qualified for college and more than 90 percent have attended.

Local Cristo Rey students will pair off in four-person teams and will be hired out to local businesses. The students will attend school four days a week and work one day a week, except once a month when they also work a rotating Friday.

The students’ salary will be paid directly to the school and will cover about 75 percent of their tuition. Grants and scholar-“We think there are students in this area who are hungry for this type of educational experience,” Hagelskamp said. “For many students, this opens a world to them-especially the corporate experience-they’ve never seen. This school very closely aligns with our mission of breaking boundaries and creating hope.”

Hagelskamp pointed out that student attendance at Cristo Rey schools have been above 90 percent and work attendance above 98 percent.

Officials from the Sisters of Providence and Indianapolis Archdiocese are meeting Sept. 21 with local business officials to finalize corporate sponsorships for the school’s inaugural year and provide area businesses with more of the school’s operational information.

“We need 25 companies to employ students the first year, so we’re in great shape,” Hagelskamp said. “By year four, when we’re at capacity, we’ll need 100 businesses.”

“Now we’re down to putting the nuts and bolts of these agreements together,” Lentz said. “We don’t want to lose momentum in the business community.”

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