By Staci Hupp
Indianapolis Star, March 5, 2007
Trey Barnes wears baggy pants and struggles to get noticed at his Eastside middle school. By this time next year, he hopes to wear neckties and rub elbows with corporate types who know his name. Trey, 14, is applying for the first freshman class at Providence Cristo Rey High School, a career academy set to open next fall on the Near Westside. Cristo Rey will stand out among metro-area schools for several reasons. First, the Catholic school is in Haughville, one of the city's poorest areas. Private schools usually open where the money is -- on a city's outskirts or in suburbs. Then there's the school's position as a pipeline between potential high school dropouts and the workplace. Students at Cristo Rey schools in Chicago and other cities work five days a month at law firms, insurance companies and other employers. Instead of paychecks, they earn about three-quarters of their tuition. In turn, the schools produce a wealth of college-bound graduates and only a scant number of dropouts. Altogether, the approach drives home a message that might not have sunk in already: Education is the ticket to a better life. "When they go to work and they see a variety of careers and they see themselves being successful at something in those environments, it doesn't make it out of reach for them," said Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, the school's president. "It makes school relevant." Trey likes the idea of spending part of his time on the job. He's too young to carve out a career path, "but I think that's what this school is trying to do," Trey said. "To get you to see what you want to be." His mother, Kimberly Barnes, 39, wants a school that demands the best from her son. That's not happening at Marshall Middle School, she says. "I'm on him all the time about school," said Barnes, who juggles two jobs. "But you have to have the other end support him, too."
Veronica Garza, 22, has seen the impact of an education at Cristo Rey. Her parents moved to the United States from Mexico, and she is now on her way to being the first in her family to graduate from college. She graduated from Cristo Rey's Chicago school in 2003 and is now a senior at Creighton University, completing degrees in Spanish and psychology. Driven by two parents who valued education, she said she'd have been successful even without Cristo Rey. But the school's internships gave her the skills and experience to thrive in the workplace. "I've been told by my supervisors that I know how to carry myself in a work environment," she said, "and that's because I've been in one since I was 14 years old." Cristo Rey is a network of 12 schools, but it started with one man. More than a decade ago, a Chicago priest wanted to open a college-prep high school in a poor neighborhood. The career element was added to keep tuition affordable. Nobody expected it to be the most important ingredient. Cristo Rey schools boast a dropout rate of less than 3 percent. Ninety-five percent of the class of 2006 enrolled in college last fall, and even more were accepted. Word of its impact spread to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis more than two years ago. "We saw a real need in the center city for some type of education that would be attractive to center-city high school kids," said Joe Peters, who heads the Catholic education office for the archdiocese. "Many times, we're not getting those kids in our regular Catholic high schools." The Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods agreed to sponsor a new school at the archdiocese's request. The religious order brought in Hagelskamp, a former teacher who oversaw the teacher education department at the University of San Francisco. About the same time, Cristo Rey's success was put into words and pictures by "60 Minutes" on CBS in 2004. Hagelskamp used the clip in her pitch to area business officials. "Afterwards, we were speechless," said Louonna Kachur, human resources director for Ice Miller law firm in Indianapolis. "We looked at each other like: 'Wow. How could we not do this?' " Four Cristo Rey students will share one $16-an-hour job at Ice Miller, Kachur said. The work will be clerical -- opening mail, filing papers -- but Kachur said it's work that the firm otherwise would have hired someone to do. Company officials view the partnership as more than a conduit to cheap help. It's also a recruiting tool. "Even if they don't want to be lawyers, we want them to know there are lots of different functions at law firms," Kachur said.
Seeking studentsTwo years of preparation went into the Indianapolis arm of Cristo Rey. Today, it has a new administration, new digs and buy-in from at least 23 companies. Now the school just needs students. The school accepts students poor enough to qualify for free or discounted school lunches. They must take a placement test and have recommendation letters from teachers and other school officials. Tuition is more than $8,000 a year, but that is covered by businesses and available financial aid. Recruitment has been slow-going. Pretzels and pinwheel snacks awaited guests at a parent information meeting one recent night, but nobody came. Marketing can be a challenge for a Catholic school that isn't tied to a local parish. So Cristo Rey leaders have used a combination of mail, telephone calls and fliers. So far, 38 students have been accepted. About 100 spots are left. Mothers, fathers and children recently toured the nearly century-old school at 75 N. Belleview Place, which once was home to Indianapolis Public School 50. The sleek new office chairs and desks stood out among the old-fashioned chalkboards, light fixtures and clocks. Susan Stone liked the big classrooms. Her daughter, Adriann, liked the idea of being in the first class of a new school. "I like this school a lot," said Adriann, 14, an eighth-grader at Harshman Middle School. "I'll work night and day if I have to." Trey, who was there with his mother, said little on the tour. His enthusiasm showed after they got home, Kimberly Barnes said. "He comes walking in here and he has on a dress shirt and he has a tie," his mother said. "It really made me melt."
Call Star reporter Staci Hupp at (317) 444-6253.
Providence Cristo Rey High School
- Address: 75 N. Belleview Place, Indianapolis.
- Projected enrollment: 100 freshmen and 30 sophomores.
- Tuition: About $8,500 a year. Three-fourths is paid by the student's employer. Students can apply for financial aid to cover the rest.
- Criteria: School accepts students who are poor enough to qualify for free or discounted school lunches. Administrators say that a willingness to work hard is more important than a student's report card. Students must take a placement test and have recommendation letters from teachers and other school officials.
- Phone: (317) 860-1000.
- Cristo Rey nationwide: Twelve schools are open, and seven others, Indianapolis included, will open this year.
- Cities: Los Angeles; Cleveland; Chicago; Cambridge, Mass.; Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Lawrence, Mass.; New York City; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; Waukegan, Ill.
- On the Web: providencecristorey.org
- AIT Laboratories.
- Advantage Health Solutions.
- Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
- Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
- Baker & Daniels, LLP.
- Barnes & Thornburg, LLP.
- Bingham McHale, LLP.
- CSO Schenkel Shultz.
- Deloitte & Touche, LLP.
- Duke Realty Corp.
- Eli Lilly and Co.
- Hawthorne Community Center.
- Habitat for Humanity.
- Ice Miller, LLP.
- Kite Realty Group Trust.
- Marian College.
- Marian Inc.
- OneAmerica Financial Partners.
- Office of the Controller.
- RJE Interiors.
- Shiel Sexton.
- St. Vincent Health.
- St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers.