High school students at Don Bosco Cristo Rey in Takoma Park are working their way through school, one day a week, at law firms, government offices, universities, hospitals and construction companies.
Most students couldn’t afford the private education otherwise — money earned working these jobs goes toward tuition. And they learn job skills along the way.
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez highlighted his hometown school’s program in a visit on Dec. 18 and spoke to students about continuing to pursue their education.
The coed Catholic prep school opened in 2007 and teaches 338 students who spend one day each week, plus one Monday a month, working for a local company or organization.
Students Mauricio Castro and Nyideh Richardson gave Perez a tour of the school, showing him the new science department and library.
In his speech, Perez urged students to work hard and get outside their comfort zone.
“Education is the greatest source of upward mobility in this nation,” he said. “Our futures are not determined by the ZIP codes of where we’re born.”
Perez encouraged students to ask as many questions as they can in their jobs and use the opportunities available to further their education. He recalled the importance of Pell grants in earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees.
“They, for me, were the ticket to upward mobility,” he said.
Partnerships such as the ones Don Bosco Cristo Rey is forging are a priority for Perez as a way for people to build job skills, said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Labor Department spokeswoman.
Each employer typically hires four students, who work one day a week for the school year, according to the school’s website. Among the school’s 75 partner employers are NASA, Sibley Memorial Hospital, the Washington, D.C., Chamber of Commerce and Ernst & Young. Companies pay the same rate for students’ work for the year, which covers 60 percent to 70 percent of the $12,000 tuition. With scholarships and work, students don’t pay the full amount; how much they pay is based on income. Eligibility for the school also is based in part on income. Students must also be at least 14 so that they can legally work.
Administrators arrange academic schedules so students don’t miss anything in their classes.
In the 2012-13 school year, students earned more than $1.9 million through the program, contributing to 53 percent of the school’s revenue. Other funding comes from contributions and grants, and just 8 percent is from tuition and fees.
“This model was born out of necessity,” said Kathleen McGuan, business development manager at the school. It was a way to fund students’ private education, but school officials also discovered benefits in building skills and confidence among students.
For students who may be struggling in school, this is another place where they can achieve and learn in a different type of environment.
“For some of these students, maybe it’s the first time someone has told them how great they are,” McGuan said. Plus “they’re exposed to role models who are successful.”
Most of the jobs are in downtown Washington. Parents drive some students to their jobs, the school drives others and some take Metro, stopping at the Gallery Place station for a member of the school’s staff to check their uniform and send them off.
The high school is part of a larger network of 26 Cristo Rey schools that employ the model throughout the country. The Takoma Park school is still in the process of growing to a student body of 500.