Corporate Atlanta Work-Study Partnerships Help Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Work Well
Thursday, March 17th, 2016
A critical reason for the successful mission of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School— The school that works in the heart of Atlanta—has been as a result of the 95 work-study opportunities and the enormous generosity of its 86 partners in corporate Atlanta.
As the 28th of 32 in the nationwide Jesuit network of college preparatory schools for young people of limited economic means, Cristo Rey Atlanta has taken pride in executing the fastest, most successful system launch to gain partners and positions for each of its freshmen and sophomores.
The school provides a curriculum to build core skills that will help students thrive in college and the modern workplace: a combination of strong academics, extracurricular programs, and a unique professional work experience. It’s a proven model that works, whereby 100% of graduates in all Cristo Rey schools have gained acceptance into college.
With growth comes challenges, however, as the school’s leadership team and board have had to urgently search for a larger campus to accommodate its next two incoming classes. The office space of the former headquarters of the Atlanta Archdiocese was a temporary option from the beginning. It has been reconfigured to repurpose it as a school with two floors of classroom space, 2 libraries, meeting space, lockers, etc.
Last October, “The Miracle on 222 Piedmont” happened as Atlanta developer Jim Cumming donated the unoccupied, seven-story Oxford Industries office building to Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. Still, according to Vice President of Advancement, Camille Naughton, “We have begun a $25 million capital campaign that will go public this spring. The structure will need to be totally gutted, including sprinkler, electrical and HVAC systems. The parking deck will need to be demolished and a platform constructed to support the addition of a gymnasium/auditorium. We hope that benefactors, both current and others, will step up as they have in the past to help us reach our goal. We are blessed that people are moved by our inspiring mission and want to help these great kids.”
Bruce Simmons, Vice President, Corporate Work-Study Program, added that Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit welcomes companies, institutions and not-for-profits to consider supporting and investing in the future leaders of Atlanta, whether it be a full-fledged job partnership, donation of a classroom, underwriting a scholarship for an individual or volunteering as tutors. “Thankfully, new partners have come aboard, and several current partners, such as GE, Georgia Tech, Emory Healthcare, Northside Hospital and Children’s Healthcare, have added additional work slots, so that we already have the next incoming class set for their 5 days a month work-study positions. We’re now ready to address the expansion for the incoming class in 2017. Our goal is 138 jobs from 100 partner companies.”
Simmons and his team manage the day-to-day issues of the work-study program; the summer business training that prepares students to enter the work force; as well as all transportation logistics.
As such, he also holds the title of President of CRAJ Leasing Company, a subsidiary of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, and a legal entity that allows the school to offer temporary help services. Those fees that the partners pay in return for the office work done by the students then goes to pay for the bulk of their tuition. Simmons’ office provides all of the information for the companies about taxes, E-9 forms, E-Verify, Department of Labor waivers to allow 14 and 15 year olds to work, etc. To complement these services, his group makes two site visits a year to each workplace to assure a safe working environment for the students. He and his staff keep all records, time cards and work descriptions.
The partners write performance reviews twice a year for each worker student and each pupil is required to speak with their supervisor once a month. “Ninety-five percent of our students meet or exceed their corporate partners’ expectations,” said Simmons. “We have never lost a job slot due to a student’s poor performance.”
When asked why do companies participate and what does he have to do to sell the program, Simmons said, “We ask them to help us change lives. We tell them about the 100% graduation rate for all of the students who have ever attended a Cristo Rey high school in other cities. Offering the companies qualified, well-educated, temporary help is the secret sauce. The company management and their employees get to become role models and mentors for the students. It puts things into perspective for all parties as they can see their aspirations and also provide inspirations for a young person’s future. This message resonates with the employers.”
Simmons tells the students that, they, in turn, have two jobs to do: get a good education and represent Cristo Rey well. “They are the school’s brand. They are impressive and well-behaved, which is encouraging for everyone.”
Cristo Rey’s demographics portray a quite diverse enrollment: only 48% of the student body is Catholic; the overwhelming majority of students are Hispanic or African-American; only 7% come from Catholic schools; all come from disadvantaged economic circumstances. In fact, the Atlanta school is the most diverse of the entire Cristo Rey Jesuit network, according to Simmons.
In recognition for its innovative approach to educating high school students of limited economic means the Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School’s Corporate Work-Study Program and its Corporate Job Partners were honored by a Proclamation from the Atlanta City Council on December 7, 2015.