The Cristo Rey way to educate your children
By Mercury Staff
Image courtesy Cristo Rey
A new Catholic high school for low-income students is coming to the greater Charleston Metropolitan Area … and some might call it a miracle.
The new school, slated to open in fall of 2022, is named Cristo Rey Charleston High School, and it will be the 39th high school opened as part of a national network of these Catholic education institutions.
What makes this Cristo Rey concept so different? Their average school is comprised of 98 percent children of color from financially disadvantaged families, and almost half are not Catholic. On average, students come from families whose household income is $38,000.
It’s not free, however — parents are expected to pay 10 percent of the overall tuition. It’s a smart idea, as it’s human nature to be more invested in an endeavor when you have skin in the game. Household income is taken into account, and a sliding scale determines the cost: The predicted tuition for Charleston ranges from $43 a month to $258 a month.
The balance of the tuition is covered by donations and a brilliantly creative work-study program in which students are hired by local businesses to staff entry-level positions. The earnings from those jobs are applied toward tuition. The work program usually covers more than 50 percent of the tuition costs, and annual fundraising takes care of the rest.
Catholic social teaching is grounded in three core precepts: human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity. Human dignity means that all persons are worthy of respect and deserving of equal opportunities in life. Solidarity calls all of us to be our brother’s keeper and attend to the needs of others. Subsidiarity is a doctrine that teaches that inequities are best and most effectively dealt with at the local level.
Historically, higher education has served as the key driver of upward mobility. With failing public schools and rising tuition costs, this critical driver of vehicle has been placed out of reach for a significant segment of society.
It was this challenge that motivated the Jesuit hierarchy in Chicago in the mid-1990s to open the first Cristo Rey High School and locate it in Pilsen — one of the poorest and most underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Pilsen is populated almost entirely by immigrants from Mexico and Central America. English is the second language there. The high school dropout rate in the local public school system is nearly 75 percent. Students who do stick it out rarely go to college. Instead, they fall victim to drugs, gangs and violence.
Yet, it was in Pilsen that the Jesuits chose in 1996 as the location for the first new high school in Chicago in 33 years. The Cristo Rey High School in Pilsen now graduates close to 100 percent of its students on time, all with college acceptances in hand.
Cristo Rey is expanding to Charleston as a result of the initiative of a small group of local volunteers. These founders see bringing Cristo Rey to Charleston as the realization of their personal commitment to both the future of the Lowcountry and to serving those less fortunate. Their investment in our community will change family trees forever, as the Cristo Rey Network’s students graduate college at three times the national average when comparing students from similar economic backgrounds.
The program and the students succeed because the program demands 100 percent of a student’s life, as well as commitment on the part of their parents to provide the support the student needs. Excuses are not accepted. Young people arrive and are immediately immersed in a college-prep curriculum. Since most students arrive ill-equipped to handle the academic challenges, they must be brought up to speed quickly, and that only happens with hard work. If the student or their parents fail to fulfill their part of the demanding schedule, the relationship is terminated.
And it is not just the students and their families that will benefit from the presence of Cristo Rey Charleston High School; the business community benefits as well. The school’s work-study program is a phenomenal workforce development opportunity with great talent recruitment potential for a diverse range of companies both big and small. This is reflected in the school’s growing list of commitments from some of our region’s finest businesses including Blackbaud, Volvo, Roper St. Francis, Diocese of Charleston, McAlister-Smith Funeral & Cremation, Neal Brothers and Vikor Scientific, to name a few.
Senator Tim Scott recently recorded a video praising Cristo Rey. The senator has long been an advocate for school choice and charter schools, and he noted: “I was born and raised in North Charleston, and I love seeing the amazing things happening in our town. Those wonderful things start with places like Cristo Rey. … A quality education is the closest thing we have to magic in America.”
Magic? Or a miracle? Either way, bringing a Cristo Rey school to our area would certainly be an answer to tens of thousands of prayers.
Cristo Rey is presently in a feasibility process investigating certain qualifiers to see if this community is a fit, and it’s very promising. For more information and to learn how you can help, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit them online at cristoreycharleston.org.