SAN DIEGO — If 2020 was the year to imagine a better America, the year 2021 is the time to make it happen. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Southcrest to visit a new non-profit high school that is helping to level the playing field for underserved students. Cristo Rey San Diego High School just completed its first year supporting low-income students with a college preparatory education and work study jobs at San Diego companies.
"I feel like it is definitely helping me improve," said 15-year-old Camila Tirado. I spoke to Camila and two of her Cristo Rey classmates Atzira Iniguez and Claudio Moreno. The students are receiving private prep school educations for just 700 dollars a year. "Career wise I will be able to have a different resume than most high school students," said Camila.
To qualify to attend the school, a family’s income must fall below 300 percent of the federal poverty rate. All three of the students I spoke with felt Cristo Rey High was providing opportunities their parents did not receive when they were children. "Yes, definitely," they said.
"They are families who really want good quality college prep education for their children but just can't afford the $20,000 price tag," said Cristo Rey San Diego High School principal Mike Derrick. There are 37 Cristo Rey High Schools across the country. Opening a San Diego campus in 2020 was challenging. "We decided it was too important to wait that this school was needed now in San Diego," said Principal Derrick. "There were times that we thought the whole thing was going to fold because you need kids, you need jobs, and you need money."
Cristo Rey uses an innovative Corporate Work Study Program to bridge tuition shortfalls. The program gives students a college-preparatory education while earning work experience in a corporate setting. Last year, across the United States, pledges were made to end systemic advantages between social classes.
"This last year was a time for people like myself and a lot of the general population to consider privilege and what I would consider very luck of circumstance," said C.J. Driscoll. He is the Chief Financial Officer for the San Diego company Precision Diagnostics. C.J. received a private school education and wants to pay it forward. "I grew up in a family of four and our parents were able to put us through Catholic School K through 8, all the way through high school and then all the way through college and that was just my luck," said C.J.
As the C.F.O. of Precision Diagnostics, C.J. approached his company that specializes in drug testing to give students like Atzira and Claudio jobs in their laboratory to offset tuition gaps. The concept is working, Cristo Rey opened in San Diego in 2020 during the pandemic with just 60 students and in fall of 2021 they will more than double their enrollment.
Through work study and corporate partners Cristo Rey is not only give students job experience but a promising path to their dream jobs. "A heart surgeon or art director," said Atzira. "Right now, a marine biologist really interests me," said Claudio. "I want to be an immigration lawyer," said Camila.
Current work-study partners include Rady Children’s Hospital, CBRE, Precision Diagnostics, Realty Income, Scripps Mercy and Father Joe’s Village. Cristo Rey San Diego High needs more corporate sponsors to grow their program. If you are interested, click here to visit their website.