Focus on the Future: New Catholic high school targets students left behind

Father Foley

Local partners as of Aug. 24

Alliance Air/Aviation Services, AZZ, Bank of America, Brown Pruitt Wambsganss Ferrill & Dean PC, Byrne Construction, Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, City of Fort Worth Park and Recreation, Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, Higginbotham, Meador Auto, Multatech Architects & Engineers, Northwestern Mutual-Fort Worth, Republic Title, Stromberg Investment Group, Texas Health Resources, Texas Mexico Law, Texland Petroleum LP, United Way of Tarrant County and Wingstop

A new Roman Catholic preparatory high school that recently broke ground in Fort Worth is designed to provide low-income high school students with a path to college through education and work experience in the corporate world.

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The school’s official name, Cristo Rey Fort Worth High School at Our Mother of Mercy, reflects its location at the site of the recently closed Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School. Cristo Rey Fort Worth is an independent school with religious endorsement by Bishop Michael Olson and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, which donated the site at 1007 E. Terrell Ave. The high school is expected to open in the fall of 2018 with 125 in the initial freshman class. The annual tuition will be based on a sliding scale dependent on each family’s financial circumstances, according to school officials. This amount will be combined with money earned through the work-study program and private philanthropy to cover the entire cost of tuition.

Cristo Rey Fort Worth is part of a Chicago-based network with over 30 schools across the country. The network was established in 2001 by the Rev. John P. Foley to provide low-income high school students in inner-cities a path to college through education and work experience.

Foley and Olson attended the groundbreaking on Aug. 23 to share details on the school with about 100 community members who attended.

“We started this because there was so much talent going to waste,” Foley said.

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Students attending the school work one day per week in a real job of their choice through the Corporate Work Study Program.

Businesses who commit to hiring the students are partners, paying the students’ wages to the school to cover expenses. Students in return get real-life work experience at top corporations and scholarship opportunities at major universities.

“This isn’t about just graduating from high school,” Foley said. “It’s about graduating from college.”

Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison, who is on the school’s feasibility study committee, said 35 business commitments are needed for the school’s first year, along with monetary donations to help fund the $2.6 million project, not including capital funding.

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To date, $1.6 million has been raised and more than 20 area businesses and organizations have committed to partnering with the school.

“This is an opportunity to help … children with limited financial means obtain a private, college preparatory education,” Morrison said. “Cristo Rey is a truly unique model that gives kids a proven chance at obtaining a college degree.”

Morrison said he decided to chair the Feasibility Study Committee because of the power of the Cristo Rey model.

“With 32 schools already open and operating ahead of us, it is clear to me that this will be a successful investment in our community,” he said. “I also appreciate Bishop Olson’s support and inspiration by championing this on behalf of the diocese. But it will be the broader community, as a whole, that will make this a reality. We need everyone to rally with us.”

Morrison said employers in the Fort Worth area should take a hard look at the Cristo Rey model as they consider their community support strategies. “It’s a win/win solution for companies that is like no other.”

The Sid W. Richardson Foundation donated $500,000 to the school, said Pete Geren, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer.

“Cristo Rey’s combination of outstanding academics, giving youth opportunities to develop job skills and get that type of experience with employers in our region prepares students to live productive and meaningful lives as adults,” Geren said.

Geren said he learned about Cristo Rey several years ago at an education conference.

“It’s a proven model. It has a proven record of strong academic performance as well as preparing the students to be successful in the work force,” he said. “I have not seen a program like it.”

Mike Pavell, Fort Worth market president for Bank of America, said the school offers a way for disconnected youth to develop workplace skills, build a resume and learn to manage a paycheck, all of which lead to long-term success.

“The changing nature of the workforce and economy presents many opportunities but there are many individuals who are being left behind due to a lack of proper education, workforce training, and opportunities to succeed,” Pavell said. “These challenges disproportionately impact individuals in low-income communities, limiting income mobility and keeping people in a cycle of poverty.”

Another supporter, Thomas J. Harris, president of Alliance Air/Aviation Services, said businesses should view hiring these students as an investment in the community.

“I would encourage the rest of the Fort Worth and Tarrant County business community to take a serious look at the Cristo Rey program and support it,” he said. “As tough as it is to envision a teenager in your business/office, we all need to understand it’s an investment in our community’s future.”

Cristo Rey Fort Worth follows Dallas and Houston as the state’s third institution in the Cristo Rey Network. Along with its high schools, the network has 46 university partners that enroll and support Cristo Rey graduates and more than 2,300 corporate partners nationwide.