An Education Where Students Have Skin in the Game

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Cristo Rey Network, a chain of Catholic schools, has enrolled its first class of 105 students on the former campus of Benedictine High School in Richmond, creating an affordable private-school alternative for dozens of low-income black and Hispanic youth.

What makes Cristo Rey unique is the degree to which students and their families put skin in the game. To cover 60% of their $13,000-a-year tuition, students work one day per week in the Corporate Work Study Program, in which four students share a full-time, entry-level job with companies such as Dominion Energy, CoStar Group and Bon Secours. Local philanthropists cover 30% to 35% of the tuition, while families are expected to contribute between $20 and $40 a month.

The program helps students focus in the classroom because they have to work for their education, says Kathleen Powers, a Cristo Rey teacher told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is their investment.”

The curriculum of the new Richmond school is geared to helping students catch up to grade level in English and math so they will be prepared to attend college when they graduate. At other Cristo Rey schools, nine in 10 students enroll in college — a rate nearly 30 percentage points higher than for most low-income high school students.

The RTD doesn’t discuss it, but it appears from the photographs accompanying the article that students appear to adhere to a strict dress code. Also, I would expect that Cristo Rey schools offer greater order in the classroom than inner city schools. But school discipline is not enforced by sadistic nuns rapping students on the knuckles. The national Cristo Rey website states:

We believe that to create a positive learning environment, it is important to have a community built upon trust. Adults in our community work hard to establish high trust relationships with students that follow appropriate boundaries and set high expectations.

The encouragement and recognition given to positive behavior begets an environment that focuses on learning the appropriate behavior rather than shame and punishment. … All behavior in the school should help to establish and maintain an environment within the school that fosters maximum learning and mutual respect. Students are expected to be respectful of the learning process and to take responsibility for their own learning. Students struggling to meet this expectation are sometimes required to complete retraining sessions during Structured Study classes.

Bacon’s bottom line: Cristo Rey is a welcome development for the Richmond metropolitan area. The school will provide an escape hatch for more than 100 students who would otherwise be consigned to under-performing schools in Richmond, Petersburg and neighboring localities. The school sets high expectations, and by asking students and families to contribute to tuition, students have a greater appreciation of the opportunity they are given. Cristo Rey students are expected to work with greater diligence and intensity than their peers in public schools. They will learn the value of the work ethic. I would not be surprised if many Cristo Rey graduates advance farther in life than pampered, peers in more affluent families.

The Richmond and Petersburg school systems, beset by continuing scandals, seem incapable of reforming themselves. Many public school administrators resent private schools like Cristo Rey that “skim the cream” of the student body, siphoning off more motivated students more likely to succeed. But the Criso Rey students and their families are surely grateful for the opportunity break free of the cycle of poverty.

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2 responses to “An Education Where Students Have Skin in the Game

  1. From La Grande, Oregon this morning where the eastern part of Oregon is a totally different state weather and geology-wise.

    I went to Catholic school, wore a “uniform”, had Nuns with wicked yard sticks for those in need of discipline – etc, the whole nine yards. I especially remember the days we all brought candy bars and turned them in then in the afternoon a tray of candy bars was offered for sale to us!

    As I’ve said many times before, I have no problems what-so-ever with any/all other kinds of schools competing against public schools who clearly have less than a stellar record of teaching at-risk kids from tenuous economic and parental circumstances – with two major caveats: 1. if we say they can perform better then lets’ do it on an apples-to-apples basis – no, they cannot have the state administer SOLs but they can do their SOL-equivalent testing and 2. – serve the same demographics – i.e. low-income kids with one parent, living in poverty.

    The concept that is continually thrown at us by Conservative types is that public schools are scandal-ridden failures and that non-public schools can do better – then we are given an “example” like this morning where words like ” sets high expectations, and by asking students and families to contribute to tuition, students have a greater appreciation of the opportunity they are given. Cristo Rey students are expected to work with greater diligence and intensity than their peers in public schools” which basically mean almost nothing if there is not a way to truly measure it.

    Are we really about “fixing” the problem and measuring the results so we actually do know we have or are we about concepts, beliefs and ideology in the name of tearing down public schools in general?

    I LIKE the idea of the parents having skin in the game and teaching work-ethic to the kids – which they will desperately need when they grow up and get out on their own – and have their own kids and I do wonder how Jim B would feel if the State said they were going to stop giving SOLs to these kids and instead “teach” them and their parents – work ethic and personal responsibility instead? Would that be okay and then we’d not have the data to show how bad the public schools are?

    Are we SERIOUS about “fixing” the problem or just peddling more conservative “philosophy”?

  2. This indeed is a welcome development. It will provide a different model for education in the area. I wish that public schools had more flexibility in what sort of teaching environments they provide. For example, my daughter went to a Montessori school from age 2 1/2 to 6. It was a marvelous learning environment. Although Montessori schools are almost always private (and expensive), the method was originally developed in Italy by Maria Montessori for poor slum kids. There is no reason that it could not be used in public pre-K and kindergarten, except for the fact that the Montessori method is very specific and is not included in traditional education training programs. I also think the SOL environment in public schools is detrimental to student development and teacher morale. It is teaching to the test. (That is one of the reasons my daughter is home-schooling her children.)

    If this new school is successful, hopefully, the Richmond public schools will learn from it and adapt some of its methods. But, the new school results can not be directly compared to the public schools. As Jim alluded, the students in Cristo Rey are probably among the most motivated and have parents that take an interest in them. Unfortunately, the parents in the most dysfunctional families most likely will not be willing (or able) to pay even $20 per month for their child’s education.

    Credit should be given to the companies that have agreed to participate in the work-study program. Running one of those programs, particularly when four students share one job, can be tricky and time-consuming. It will be interesting to see if this aspect of the program is sustainable.

    As for the philanthropists that are covering the remainder of the tuition, the cynic in me says there probably are some tax credits in it for them that will ease the financial pain.

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