Cristo Rey ‘Draft Day’ connects students with Milwaukee businesses

Program teaches kids soft skills to prepare them for future jobs [PHOTO GALLERY]

Theology teacher John Radke, center, shakes the hands of recently drafted students.

Packed in the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School gymnasium in West Milwaukee, less than a mile south of Miller Park, representatives from 50 Milwaukee businesses and nonprofit organizations announced their “draft selections” on Tuesday morning.

Their pool of talent: 237 Cristo Rey students in gray slacks wearing either white blouses or dress shirts with blue and gold ties.

Cristo Rey opened at 1215 S. 45th St. in West Milwaukee in 2015.  The high school holds an annual draft in its gymnasium each August in which local businesses chose a group of students to work for them as interns one day each week during the school year. It’s a workforce development program designed to teach kids soft skills that will help them find jobs after they graduate and network in the Milwaukee business community.

Last year, 23 local businesses participated in the program. This year, that number more than doubled to a total of 50 employers

And the program isn’t done expanding. Cristo Rey President Andrew Stith said he wants to secure an additional 25 employers for next year’s draft.

The school is part of a national network of 32 Catholic high schools across the country with a similar workforce development program, but only a small group choose to hold draft events each year.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to bring the whole business community together to kind of celebrate what our students’ contribution is to the business community and what the business community is doing to build the whole city up,” Stith said.

As their names were called before a crowd of between 500 and 600 business representatives and family members, students walked across the stage and then into a nearby hallway for a briefing with their new company. A group of two freshman and two sophomores drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks slid jerseys over their uniforms. Their names: Jazmin Ramirez, Maya Saavedra, Luis Nolasco and McKenzie Billups.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Saavedra said. “I’m a freshman, so I don’t know what to expect, but this is a pretty cool company to work for.”

Nolasco, a sophomore, shook his head in apparent disbelief.

“It’s really dope that I get to work for the Bucks,” he said. “I can (already) hear the game playing as I’m doing computer work. It’s pretty cool. I’m excited.”

Participating businesses included some of the city’s largest and most influential organizations, such as Marquette University, Children’s Hospital and Health System, Aurora Health Care, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Manpower Group and Johnson Controls Inc.

“This is our first year being  involved with this,” said Alicia Dupies, vice president of community relations for the Milwaukee Bucks. “I came out of the construction industry before joining the Bucks, and we have seen a real skills shortage in kids. It’s not because they don’t know the skills, it’s because they haven’t been exposed to the skills. By having kids in school four days a week, but then in an office environment one day a week, I think it’s like the perfect recipe for giving kids the soft skills they need to get a job after high school or a part time job once they’re in college.”

Dupies said the Bucks interns will work in four different departments within the organization: legal, finance, human resources and community relations and social responsibility. The Bucks wrote out a contract for each student with the help of Cristo Rey that includes a job description, and each student will have a supervisor whom they will report to.

“I think one of the biggest challenges we have in our community right now is that kids are being told they can’t, and kids need to be told that they can,” Dupies said. “The best way to show kids they can is to put them in the environment to show them that they can.”

Stith said the purpose of the program is to prepare students, many of whom come from low-income families, and to expose them to the nuances of working in white collar offices.

“It’s critical, many of our students don’t have the world knowledge or experiences from these professional offices,” Stith said. “Getting them in at a young age helps us create young people with good work ethic who understand how to introduce themselves, who understand how to dress, who understand how to look someone in the eye, who understand what the expectations are of going into a professional work environment. It also exposes them to the broader world of professional careers. Many of them have a very limited view of what’s out there.”

So far in the school’s first year, it has surpassed a few statistical benchmarks. Stith said the student classroom attendance rate during the 2015-16 school year was 96 percent. Student workplace attendance was at 98 percent. Also, Cristo Rey freshman improved their mathematical skills at a rate that tripled the national average last year, Stith said.

“It’s an indicator of a few things,” Stith said of the school’s performance since it opened. “Its an indicator of a high quality school that we’re setting a foundation for. It’s also an indicator of the value that outside companies, the value that they have for our program and our students. This isn’t a charity. We ask for a job and companies give students real work to do. The fact that all of them are coming back next year speaks to the value that they’re finding in our students.”

Stith, and the participating companies, are hopeful the program will eventually help strengthen the local economy.

“It introduces (students) to people in the community who can help them along their way, who can mentor them, write a letter of recommendation, or in some way help shape their future so that they come back to Milwaukee and contribute to Milwaukee and the broader community and businesses here,” Stith said.

Here’s a complete list of each company who participated in this year’s Cristo Rey Draft Day:

  • Ace World Wide Moving & Storage Co., Inc.
  • Associated Bank
  • Atlas Metal Parts
  • Aurora Health Care
  • Baker Tilly
  • Betty Brinn Children’s Museum
  • BMO Harris Bank
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee
  • Catholic Financial Life
  • Children’s Hospital and Health System
  • Coakley Brothers
  • Columbia St. Mary’s part of Ascension Healthcare
  • Concordia University Wisconsin
  • Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
  • Cubic Designs Inc.
  • Discovery World
  • Enterforce Inc.
  • Froedtert Health
  • Hatch Staffing Services, Inc.
  • Husch Blackwell LLP
  • International Thermal Systems LLC
  • J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc.
  • Johnson Controls , Inc.
  • Journey House, Inc.
  • M.A. Mortenson Company
  • Manpower Group
  • Marquette University
  • MGIC Investment Company
  • Michael Best & Friedrich, LLP
  • Milliman, Inc.
  • Milwaukee Bucks
  • Milwaukee Center For Independence
  • Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra
  • Next Door
  • Northwestern Mutual
  • Phoenix Investors, LLC
  • Quarles & Brady, LLP
  • Robert W. Baird & Co.
  • Rogers Memorial Hospital
  • Sendik’s Food Market
  • SHARP Literacy, Inc.
  • SPX Corporation
  • St. Camillus
  • Superior Die Set Corporation
  • Town Bank
  • U.S. Bank
  • United HealthCare Services, Inc.
  • United Performing Arts Fund
  • WE Energies
  • Weyco Group

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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