"Today really is a celebration of a community that is deciding to take advantage of this wonderful educational model that has worked in 29 schools and make it work in Milwaukee." -Andy Stith, President of Cristo Rey Milwaukee
Cristo Rey Milwaukee Students Drafted into the Big Leagues

By: Brian Harper

Casual observers might have mistaken the new Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Milwaukee for the site of a professional sports-style draft on Friday, July 24.

This was the point.

That morning, students, parents, staff, and representatives from 21 companies, non-profits, and other Milwaukee organizations gathered in the school’s gymnasium to launch Cristo Rey Jesuit’s Corporate Work Study Program with a “Draft Day.” As the names of 130 rookies or incoming freshmen — were called off to applause, executive leadership from partnering organizations stood on stage, playing the role of general managers ready to welcome new players to their teams.

Like the 29 other Cristo Rey Jesuit college preparatory high schools in the United States, Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee’s work study program plans to offer an innovative education in which economically disadvantaged students gain valuable job experience working at area organizations while earning the majority of their tuition.

Groups of four students have been assigned to each of the work partners, where they will cover one day of the five-day work week and rotate on the fifth day. On the job they will perform entry-level tasks, developing professional and life skills to accompany their classroom curriculum.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee

Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee freshmen were welcomed by executive leadership from their work placements on "Draft Day."  

Though “Draft Day” was organized to evoke the anticipation of a sports draft, job placements were carefully decided based on the interests and skills of each student, as well as the needs of participating organizations.

Cristo Rey Jesuit’s unconventional corporate work model has had outstanding results elsewhere. Cristina Navarrete, a graduate of one of the two Cristo Rey Jesuit schools in Chicago, now works as a reporter and producer with Telemundo Wisconsin. She served as the event’s emcee and presented herself as an example of how far Cristo Rey Jesuit’s work study program can take a teenager.

“In the beginning, I was a little bitter,” she recalled. “I wondered, ‘Why are you making me grow up way too fast?’ I’m here today because of that step my parents took for me. I decided to take on the challenge, because I’m a firm believer that somebody will give the opportunity, somebody will open the door, but it’s up to you to keep that door open.” 

Ana Luci and Isaac, both 14, are incoming freshmen in Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee’s inaugural class. While they can relate to Navarrete’s hesitation, they are also excited, not only to gain work experience but also to be part of a new school.

“I’m really looking forward to the jobs,” said Ana Luci. “But mostly, I’m excited to meet new people and make new friendships.”

Students arrived at Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee on June 29 for a four-week business training camp, during which eight teachers and 18 staff members diligently prepared students for their work placements and the upcoming school year.

“The teachers help us get ready every day to be all dressed up. They make us look nice,” said Isaac. Training focused on a variety of areas, including conversational etiquette.

Molly McConnell, Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee’s physics teacher who previously taught at Cristo Rey St. Martin in Waukegan, Ill., said the school emphasizes collaboration between teachers and students.

“I love that part about it,” she said. “It’s not some group swooping in to help poor kids. It’s the kids working alongside all of the staff to help themselves get an amazing education that will prepare them for the professional world, work, college, and to be people of faith working for others.”

Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee’s president, Andy Stith, credits the corporate partners for helping the new school get off the ground.

Below is a slideshow of photos from
the 2015 Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee Draft Day.
Or, view the photos via this link to our online gallery.

“These businesses are really being courageous,” he said. “They’re the first ones to do this. Today really is a celebration of a community that is deciding to take advantage of this wonderful educational model that has worked in 29 schools and make it work in Milwaukee.”

Marquette University is one of the organizations that will employ Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee students. Dr. Marya Leatherwood, Marquette’s interim vice president for student affairs, said the partnership is reflective of the Jesuit mission.

“To be affiliated with the startup of a new Jesuit high school is such an incredible opportunity for our students within the Milwaukee community,” she said. “The Jesuits have always been very committed to education, so we’re delighted that we can continue that process by giving back in a meaningful way to the high school students who will be at Cristo Rey.”

Dr. Leatherwood said the experience can give the students ideas about what they would like to do with their futures. This has not been lost on Ana Luci and Isaac, who are already considering career goals.

“I’m interested in law,” said Ana Luci, “but nothing for sure yet.”

“I’m interested in marketing and business,” said Isaac. “I’m good at selling stuff.

“He is good at selling stuff,” said Stith. “When he interviewed at Cristo Rey, he had just sold 20 boxes of chocolate and won a contest. We said, ‘We’ve got to get this guy. He’s motivated!’”

That motivation is sure to help Isaac, Ana Luci, and their classmates as they kick off Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee’s first season and seek to match the success of their counterparts throughout the country.

Learn how you can support Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee by attending a St. Louis Jesuits reunion concert in Milwaukee this September.

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