For our final Platform on organizations dedicated to educating kids, Father Robert Sandoz spoke yesterday about the mission and work of the Cristo Rey Academy in Newark, of which he is President. The Cristo Rey schools are a national network of 35 co-ed Catholic schools dedicated to serving students from underserved, low-income communities through a unique educational model that combines a rigorous college preparatory education with four-year, integrated professional work study experiences. It is the largest nationwide network of high schools that exclusively serves low-income students.
There is no religious requirement placed on the students and when asked about this, Fr. Sandoz replied that he’s there because he’s Catholic – not because the students are.
Fr. Sandoz’s topic was, “The Challenge and Opportunity of Environmental Study For Urban Students” and he led off by describing how most of his students have never had an opportunity to see nature in the way most of us have seen it. Many have never seen the ocean or a lake, many have never been hiking along a trail in the mountains, many have never even seen a garden. From a specifically Christian perspective, he feels it is important to expose the kids to the full measure of God’s creation so in addition to the regular academic program, they arrange field trips to the ocean, state and national parks and the like.
Fr. Sandoz went on to describe Cristo Rey’s unique collaboration with business to teach these kids, who all come from below the poverty line, how to hold a job. For the entire four years of high school the kids do their academics four days a week and spend the fifth day working (five students share one full time job, each student working a different day). Their pay goes towards their tuition which is under $3,000/year. These are real jobs and the kids are expected to be on time and to act and dress professionally. The client businesses, for their part, are told to hold the kids to real expectations of professionalism and not do dumb things down. Fr. Sandoz described how the kids are coached intensively on what it means to hold a job and that as freshman they come to understand that they are capable of working for someone – and that by sophomore year they realize that they can become that someone for whom they are working.