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Finding Minnesota: Cristo Rey Jesuit, The 1st Of Its Kind

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77696_Angela Davis WEB Angela Davis
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By Angela Davis, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As we head into the high school graduation season, we’re seeing lots of teenagers head off to new challenges at college. But for all the kids that take the next step, there are many more who don’t move on to further their education.

In fact is, only about 70 percent of graduating seniors in Minnesota go on to college.

This week in Finding Minnesota, a profile of a high school that is the first of its kind in the state. Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis has a graduating class that is the envy of many.

The building itself stands out. On the outside — modern and bright. On the inside — open and sophisticated.

But it’s the accomplishments of the 61 students who make up the first graduating class, that is turning heads.

Jeb Myers is the principal at Cristo Rey.

“Ninety percent of their seniors are going on to four-year or two-year college. Two are still waiting for information. Four are going into the military,” he said.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School is a Catholic school that’s part of a network of 24 schools nationally.

The model was first developed on the south side of Chicago in 1996.

Students attend classes four days a week. And then, on the fifth day, they go to work — all day.

They do clerical work at companies like Best Buy, Medtronic, U.S. Bank and even a few law firms.

Kale Mohamad is a freshman at Cristo Rey and works in the law library at Lindquist Vennum in downtown Minneapolis.

“When I come here, first I go to book drops. When people return books, the lawyers, I pick them up and when I come here, I do labels or book processing and then I file,” she said.

Instead of paying the students directly, the companies pay the high school.

Those wages cover nearly half the cost of their education.

Evelin Vergara is a graduating senior headed to the University of Minnesota in the fall.

She said she’s gotten a lot out of her four years of working part-time through high school.

“Definitely a lot of communications experience. I was shy in the beginning and now I am outspoken. It helped me a lot,” Vergara said.

Her jobs in high school included stints as a dispatcher at C.H. Robinson and an assistant to assignment editors at a Twin Cities television station.

The staff at Cristo Rey deliberately seek out kids who are from low-income families, with grades that are OK, but not exceptional.

They also look for kids with good social skills, so that they can handle being in a professional workplace.

Father David Haschka is President Emeritus at the school.

“I think what few people realize is that educating inner city urban youth is one of the most toughest struggles in the country today. Everyone has an idea but nobody has the answer. What will work? What will keep people on track?” he said.

Graduating senior Morris Martinez knows what helped him.

“Here it is smaller, and it is easier to work individually with each student and you can plan out things. If you are behind in our school, they will make plans with you, the teacher will sit and work one on one with you, and after school, you can come. They are always here,” Martinez said.

He’s headed to St. Paul College this fall. His younger sisters, who are twins, will be following in his footsteps.

They will be freshmen at Cristo Rey this fall.

There are 24 schools like this nationally, but only one in Minnesota.

They have 268 students but would like have more, 450 to 500 students ideally.

If you want to read more about Cristo Rey just go to the school’s website.

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