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Private Foundations Will Fund 12 Innovative Schools

Poor students at the Catholic campuses will earn their education by working at a business.

May 21, 2003|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Two private foundations are teaming up to provide $18.9 million to start 12 "work-study" Catholic schools -- much like an innovative program launched last fall at Verbum Dei High School in Watts, where students help earn their private, college-prep educations by going to clerical jobs one day a week.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation will announce the grant program today at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, where the work-study model began as a way to help students in low-income, minority neighborhoods afford high-quality educations.

Since its founding in 1996, Cristo Rey has educated youngsters from mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant families on the city's South Side, partnering with banks, insurance companies, law firms and other businesses. The firms provide one clerical job that is shared among four students and pay the school about three-fourths of the cost of educating each student. The school day is longer to make up for the one day a week that a student is on the job.

Catholic schools using the Cristo Rey model have opened in several other cities; Verbum Dei, an all-boys' campus in one of Los Angeles' most impoverished communities, is the first existing school in the nation to convert to the work-study model.

"Cristo Rey Jesuit High School has given birth to an entire network of new and emerging schools that focus on meeting the needs of young people in underserved communities," said Father John P. Foley, a Jesuit priest and president of Cristo Rey. "The magnitude of the investment in the network is gratifying to all of us here in Chicago as more and more young people will reap the benefits of this tremendous educational model."

The grants will help start new Catholic schools or convert existing ones to the work-study model. However, officials Tuesday did not identify which schools will be the recipients, saying that they are still studying that.

Like Cristo Rey, which saw 100% of its Class of 2002 earn college acceptances, the schools are small -- average size is 400 students -- and offer a rigorous curriculum and individual attention.

Many Catholic schools, long an alternative to overcrowded, poor-performing public schools in impoverished areas, have closed in recent years as working-class Catholic families moved to the suburbs and were replaced by those who cannot afford tuition.

Advocates of the work-study model said that going to work brings students maturity and poise and exposes them to wider opportunities and mentors.

The Gates foundation was formed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife to expand educational opportunities for high school students. The Cassin foundation has helped launch four Cristo Rey-type schools, including Verbum Dei, and has financed feasibility studies for several similar future schools. Seven more will open this fall and feasibility studies for three more are underway.

Verbum Dei so far is the only one in California.

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