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Monday, August 27, 2007

New high school puts focus on workplace

Cristo Rey gives students taste of real employment

Terry Majors wants to make a name for himself in the business community, and he's confident he's well on his way to being successful. Making eye contact, he shakes hands firmly and confidently. He's dressed neatly and professionally in a white, buttondown shirt and tie. His shoes are well-polished. He speaks in a friendly, yet authoritative, voice about a new job he will soon start.

"It's all about choices," he says philosophically of life, as if he's been making choices for decades.

But Majors hasn't yet lived through decades; he's only 14 years old. He's a freshman at a new high school that pairs students with companies in a program that teaches the teen-agers about the business world, while readying them for college.

"We're the younger generation," Majors says, pointing out that he and his classmates will be the ones running things in a few years. He wants to be a doctor or perhaps a lawyer.

Admittedly, he says, it took him a couple of tries to learn to tie his tie.

"I'm used to it now and it feels comfortable," he said. "I have a more positive attitude when I dress well."

This is the first year in Indianapolis for Providence Cristo Rey High School, a national Catholic faith-based, collegepreparatory high school that began in Chicago 11 years ago.

About two miles west of White River State Park, Providence Cristo Rey has accepted 100 students, most of whom are 21st Century Scholars. The school will grow to about 400 students over the next four years.

College expected
And if the 19 other Cristo Rey high schools nationwide are an indication, Majors and nearly all his classmates will go to college before embarking on careers, a decision possibly made easier because they'll work in four different jobs in various industries during high school, giving them a chance to see what they might like to do and what they don't want to do.

Among the 2006 graduates of Cristo Rey schools elsewhere, 99 percent were admitted to two- or four-year colleges and 95 percent enrolled.

The majority of the students at the schools, which are typically in urban neighborhoods plagued by poverty or crime-or both-are Latino or black. Their annual family incomes barely top $33,000.

Only 2.6 percent of Cristo Rey students dropped out last year, compared with national figures that show nearly half of Latino and black students do not finish high school.

The school credits its success to getting the students interested in the business world, building their confidence and selecting motivated teen-agers who might not be up to speed on academics, but want to go to college.

"It's all about relationships," said Anne O'Dea, who works in admissions at Providence Cristo Rey. "These kids have just really been turned on by what they learn. At least they come back every day."

Local businesses see the positives, too. Among the 25 that have come on board at Providence are Eli Lilly and Co., St. Vincent Health, CSO Architects, Ice Miller LLP and OneAmerica.

Each pays $25,000 to sponsor four students who share a job at the company. The money pays 75 percent of the student's tuition; parents pay the rest, although financial aid is available.

Summer boot camp
Company representatives also teach classes such as business ethics, public speaking and conflict resolution during a three-week boot camp students went through this summer-before school even started.

A typical day for Majors during boot camp started at 8 a.m. with assembly and prayer. Four business-related workshops followed, each 45 minutes long. Then he ate lunch in the cafeteria that looks-and sounds-like any other high school cafeteria. Lunch was provided as most of the students qualify for reduced or free-lunch programs. After lunch, students attended math and reading remedial classes to get them ready for high school.

Majors, one of six siblings, took something else away from boot camp-a large collection of business cards.

"I plan to stay in touch with all these people," Majors said, thinking years ahead to life in the business world after college.

It was at the end of boot camp that students learned what company they will work for and what job they'll do there during the school year.

And the jobs are real-not made-up positions to keep the students busy, said Mary Jo Reed, job cost manager at Duke Realty Corp., and Majors' supervisor.

For example, Majors will work on job closeouts at Duke, a process where construction costs are tallied at the end of a project to ensure that the charges have been allocated correctly and that no further costs are incurred.

Majors will have his own office, phone, computer and access to Duke's computer systems, Reed explained. He'll work with project managers and those in the construction department and be included in meetings and company functions.

"We hope to teach him how the corporate environment works within one company," Reed said.

But it's a two-way street, she said.

"We hope to learn a lot from him as well. These kids haven't had the best of things up to this point in their lives. They may be 14, but many have lived the life of a 50-year-old."

Another student, Brittnee Vaughn, will work at AIT Laboratories, which provides laboratory research and testing for the health care, pharmaceutical and forensic industries.

Vaughn is thrilled with her placement.

"I want to be a crime scene investigator like on 'CSI,'" the 14-year-old said. "I'd be OK with observing an autopsy. I think I could handle it. I hope to ask the CEO [of AIT] if I can get a peek at what they really do."

Perhaps not an autopsy, but Vaughn will get a chance to see a lot of what goes on at AIT.

She'll work in several departments, assisting in laboratories and processing areas, according to June Henderson, director of human resources at AIT. Vaughn also will have contact with the quality-control unit and its certifying department.

Like Majors, Vaughn isn't at all nervous. Already confident coming into Providence, Vaughn, the eldest of seven children, gained even more self-assurance during boot camp while meeting people from the business community and learning what it'll be like to work in it.

"They talk to us like we're adults," said Vaughn, dressed as professionally as Majors and equally comfortable doing so. "I feel older when I dress like this."

"My friends think it's a lot to go to school and work," said Vaughn, who likes to play video games in her free time. "But I feel lucky to be going here."

Source: Indianapolis Business Journal - FOCUS: Workforce Development, August 27, 2007

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