Cristo Rey schools treat young people as adults

June 23, 2010 •

By their early teens many young people are already living quite adult lives—in the home, on the street—looking not only after themselves but often siblings, neighbors, and their parents. Is it any wonder that young people in this situation act out, and check out when they go to school? Any school model that ‘infantilizes’ these young people—treating those who have essentially adult characters (or at least adult responsibilities) as children—seems doomed to failure from the start.

The Cristo Rey model of schools (profiled here in May in the Wall Street Journal), by contrast, gives them serious responsibilities. Students are given the opportunity to earn their tuition; and their success depends on their willingness to demonstrate their adult-level competence.

The Cristo Rey schools are Catholic, but the principle can be applied to a secular or non-denominational setting. At its core is a classroom/apprenticeship hybrid arrangement that both engages students and applies their learning. It also uses a longer school day and tailors the counseling to careers and character development.

The apprenticeship component is essentially work-study: the students work at businesses that partner with the school, earning a large portion of their tuition themselves. Meanwhile they gain real world experience, and gain self-confidence, realizing they have the capacity to achieve their personal and professional goals. They dress for work and carry themselves professionally, even while in school.

These schools have a presence now around the country. Here is a story, from Kansas City, where all 59 students of their first graduating class are going to college.

Work and learning fit naturally together, and used to be the principal way we learned. This may be one way to engage students who at present, frankly, reject schools on their face as irrelevant, uncaring, and patronizing.

Cristo Rey school, Columbus, Ohio, c/o Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus