A highly regarded network of Catholic schools is working to open a new school in Tampa by 2016. To keep those plans on track, supporters of the Cristo Rey Tampa Catholic High School school are heading into a three-month sprint to line up financial backers, hire a president for the local organization, and identify dozens of potential employers for its signature work-study program.
Cristo Rey’s work-study program exposes students to professional life and surrounds them with successful adult mentors. It also goes a long way toward covering the cost of a college-preparatory education for the students the schools target, who come from low-income and working-class families.
Their work-study earnings cover the bulk of their tuition. For many students, Florida’s tax credit scholarships can cover most of the remaining cost (the scholarships are administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post).
The work-study program depends on employers — law firms, banks, health care providers and the like — that hire students for what Brian Melton, the Cristo Rey Network’s director of school growth, says is “real service for real pay.” The students are accountable for their on-the-job performance like any other employees, and the jobs are expected to pay $28,600 a year.
Each job is held by a team of four students, who work one day each, Monday through Thursday. To make sure the school can accommodate its first class of about 125 ninth-graders, it wants to have commitments from 35 potential employers this spring, and from another 35 each of the next four years as the school expands into the higher grades.
“They’re very happy to give talented students an opportunity to better themselves,” Melton said of the firms that hire students in the 27 cities where Cirsto Rey operates. Therein lies part of his pitch to potential employers: “In Tampa there’s a lot of really great kids who, if they just had the opportunity, could get into a great high school and go on to college and be very successful.”
The Chicago-based network has had its eyes on Florida for several years, and it found on-the-ground support in Tampa. The Mary Help of Christians Foundation is offering to match private donations to support the new school, and has provided a building to house it.
Mary Help of Christians Center is located in East Tampa, in a ZIP code where nearly one in four residents hasn’t finished high school — exactly the kind of area where Jim Madden, who is coordinating the feasibility study for the school, said it hopes to make an impact.
Madden said he hopes to have enough potential employers lined up for the work-study program and enough donations to cover the school’s start-up costs by the end of April. That would allow the school to receive a final green-light from the local Catholic Diocese, and a go-ahead from the national Cristo Rey organization in June.
Other Florida cities like Orlando and Miami have some of the same features that drew Cristo Rey to Tampa: A growing population, a recovering job market, private school choice programs, and large numbers of students, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who could benefit from having access to a school that sends all of its graduates to college.
“Our hope is that if we successfully launch in Tampa, we’ll be able to grow elsewhere in Florida as well,” Melton said.
For more information about the planned Cristo Rey Tampa High School, contact Jim Madden, whose information can be found here.