The senior at Detroit Cristo Rey High is the first of six siblings to graduate from high school. The first to be headed to college. And he was among the first to graduate from the new private school that is partly funded by the students working one to two full days a week.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, in a graduation address Sunday in Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church, noted how special Martinez’s class is.
“I’m very impressed,” Bing told the green-garbed, gold-tassled grads, “that every member of the Class of 2012 is going to go to college.”
He related their success to his own, growing up modestly in the inner city.
“There were a lot of people who told me that ‘You’re not going to make it. You’re going to fail,’ ” Bing said. “I am hopeful that you won’t forget Detroit because our future is you. … We need you now more than ever.”
The fact that all 46 graduates of Cristo Rey were accepted to a college is a formidable accomplishment for a school where many students enter as freshmen who are one- to two-grade levels behind in reading or math. The Class of 2012 also won about $1 million in scholarships.
Martinez said he had no ambitions for college when he entered Cristo Rey as a sophomore, and now he’s planning to attend Schoolcraft College to study culinary arts.
“My whole life I wasn’t really thinking about college,” Martinez said. “I started thinking about college because they’re always putting it in your ear here. When everybody else is going to college, you don’t want to be the only who’s not.”
Cristo Rey, which means “Christ the King” in Spanish, is a national network of 24 schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia, started in Chicago in 1996.
The Detroit Class of 2012 began with about 75 students in a brand-new school starting up from scratch. On Sunday, 46 seniors graduated — some of the first students were asked to leave, but most transferred out. School administrators hope at least 85% of the graduates will actually go to the colleges that accepted them. The school plans to track and help navigate them through college.
Detroit Cristo Rey serves 221 students — about halfway to the enrollment goal — in the building that used to house Holy Redeemer Catholic School in southwest Detroit. Holy Redeemer closed in 2005.
About 60% of the students are Catholic; half are Hispanic. They come from 40 ZIP codes, said Detroit Cristo Rey President Michael Khoury.
The school targets low-income families that are unable to afford other private school options, so there’s an income limit to attend. Annual tuition is $2,400, but payment is based on income, and most parents pay about $800 per year.
“We’re really a school for students who really don’t have many other educational options,” Khoury said.
Each student works one day a week, but for one week each month, they work for two days. To make up for the work-study jobs, students go to school 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cristo Rey schools are set up to sustain themselves on funds provided by businesses. In Detroit, each of the 85 businesses in the work-study program pays $26,000 a year — which goes up to $27,000 next year — per position. In exchange, four students share one full-time job.
Most of the kids do entry-level administrative duties — filing and answering phones — at places such as the Detroit Athletic Club, law firms and DTE Energy’s River Rouge power plant. But four girls have worked in the birthing center at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia doing everything from holding women in labor to running errands to cleaning stillborns.
The jobs are an opportunity for students to interact with — and learn from — professionals on a regular basis, Khoury said. In preparation for work-study jobs, the students learn proper etiquette. Martinez said a co-worker — that’s what the kids call the adults they work with — at the Michigan First Credit Union taught him to tie a necktie.
Altogether, this year Cristo Rey students earned $1.1 million, or about half of the school’s budget.
“The fate of the school, my salary, everyone’s, depends on 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds going out and doing a good job,” Khoury said.
‘This is the real world’
Susan Rowe, the principal, knows how a college prep school is supposed to run after 24 years at University of Detroit Jesuit, a high-performing all-boys private school in northwest Detroit where it’s a given that kids go on to college.
At Cristo Rey, the work-study gives students a leg up, Rowe said.
“They feel valued and recognized in the adult world,” she said.
Dana Hill’s son, Daron, was the school’s quarterback, played basketball and ran track. He was accepted to Wayne State University, University of Dubuque and Saginaw Valley State University, but will attend Adrian College in the fall.
“The teachers and staff, they just cared,” Hill said. “And they get work experience. They see, when you graduate high school, this is the real world.”
Anti’Shay Taylor, 18, is leaving the small classes and work-study jobs at Cristo Rey for the lecture halls and work-study jobs at the University of Michigan.
“I’m really not nervous,” she said. “I’m ready.”
Contact Chastity Pratt Dawsey: 313-223-4537 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Jim Schaefer contributed to this report.
©2012 the Detroit Free Press
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