As Cristo Rey Jesuit High School opens to serve 125 Milwaukee freshmen in August, the school will throw each of its students out into the real world well before they earn their diplomas.
On top of classroom instruction, the Catholic, college preparatory high school – part of the national Cristo Rey Network – drives learning in the workplace through its Corporate Work Study Program.
With the support of close to two dozen area employers, the Corporate Work Study Program will pull students outside school walls, placing them in offices where they can begin to explore occupations and rehearse job skills.
“The goal is to expose them to a professional work environment so they can learn skills and professional expectations that they wouldn’t normally be able to learn in a classroom or in their communities,” said school president Andrew Stith.
Milwaukee’s Cristo Rey Jesuit High School is the 29th school affiliated with the national network. The Milwaukee high school is located in a 45,000-square-foot building at 1215 S. 45th Street in West Milwaukee. The school currently has a staff of 16, but will continue to hire as it approaches opening day on Aug. 17. At full capacity, Cristo Rey will be able to accommodate about 400 students.
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School earlier this month named 23 Milwaukee-area companies who will employ its students in the Corporate Work Study Program. They are: Ace Worldwide; Associated Bank; Aurora Health Care; Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.; Baker Tilly; BMO Harris Bank; Children’s Hospital & Health System; Columbia St. Mary’s; Cubic Designs Inc.; Froedtert Health; Hatch Staffing Services Inc.; Johnson Controls Inc.; ManpowerGroup; Marquette University; Michael Best & Friedrich LLP; Phoenix Investors LLC; Quarles & Brady LLP; Town Bank; U.S. Bank; We Energies; Weyco Group; Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare; and Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.
The kinds of jobs the students work at are as diverse as the types of companies involved in the program. Most of the jobs are entry level and include information technology, human resources, public relations, accounts payable and billing.
No matter the position, students are expected to complete real work, Stith said.
“So while they do need training and they will need to develop, it’s expected that the work that they do is of benefit to the company,” he said.
Every single Cristo Rey student is required to hold a job through the Corporate Work Study Program, and “employability” is among the top factors the school considers in its selection of students, Stith said.
Four students share one full-time position, so each student gets to work five days a month. Cristo Rey handles all transportation of students to and from their workplace sites.
Cristo Rey’s Corporate Work Study Program operates as a 501(c)(3) organization that is separately incorporated from the school, but works directly with it. Companies who sign up to be part of the program pay the organization for students’ work. Those funds cover program costs and are also allocated toward the cost of educating students.
The model allows Cristo Rey to operate financially sustainable programming and keep tuition affordable for students who generally do not have the means to attend a college prep school, according to Stith.
While program job sponsors can take advantage of student productivity for the benefit of their companies, they are also able to directly access the next generation workforce.
“They get an opportunity to really market themselves to folks who will be in that diverse, educated workforce pipeline in Milwaukee,” Stith said.
At Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C., Cristo Rey students will primarily handle administrative and clerical tasks as office staff works with them on soft skills, such as how to give a good handshake and look people in the eye.
“I think those skills are woefully short in many areas, and so I think this kind of setting is a terrific opportunity for a young person to gain those soft skills that really do matter,” said Paul Eberle, chief executive of the firm.
Eberle became acquainted with the Corporate Work Study Program after serving on the original steering committee charged with investigating the need for a Cristo Rey institution in Milwaukee.
“I think it’s really important for the business community to lead and support all kinds of education initiatives,” Eberle said. “We all agree that education is a challenge, and rather than standing on the sidelines I think we’ve got to jump into the game and engage and help support those things that can make a difference. And clearly Cristo Rey is making a great difference around the country and in the other cities where the schools are up and running.”
Both students who are part of the first class and some who remain on the school’s waiting list will take part in Cristo Rey’s Summer Bridge Program, a four-week program that prepares students for the academic year and for their job placements.
At the end of that program, which kicks off on June 29, students will learn where they have been assigned to work in an NFL draft-style event that involves job sponsors.
Stith is continuing to recruit mid- and large-sized employers for the Corporate Work Study Program for future school years as the school scales up its growth.
For more information on the program, contact Stith at firstname.lastname@example.org.