WEST MILWAUKEE — While some students are preparing for the upcoming school year, approximately 130 who will be attending the new Cristo Rey Jesuit High School this fall already have completed four weeks.Students selected to work with ManpowerGroup through the Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) pose for a photo on draft day, July 24, with ManpowerGroup officials. The team of students will fill one full-time equivalent position for the company and will in turn receive a wage that goes to CWSP to help fund the school. View or purchase related photos. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres) 

The students who were accepted, as well as those on the school’s waiting list, attended a required business training camp, June 29 through July 24, that prepared them for what to expect when school starts Aug. 17, gave them a chance to get to know their teachers and each other, and helped teachers gauge the students’ academic needs. 

It also culminated in an “NFL-style draft day,” where they learned for which of the 22 participating local companies and nonprofits they would be working during the school year as part of the Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP). 

The program supplements classroom learning by pairing a team, or teams, of four students with a business, each team covering one full-time equivalent position.

St. Louis Jesuits in concert to benefit cristo rey

A concert featuring the St. Louis Jesuits will benefit Cristo Rey High School at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20 at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $25-$75. For tickets, call (414) 286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org/show/

In addition to attending classes, the students will also perform entry-level tasks five full days each month for the company that, in turn, pays a wage to the CWSP for the students’ work, giving them the opportunity to develop practical professional skills.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, housed in the former St. Florian School building, 1215 S. 45th St., is the first of its kind in Wisconsin, but it’s part of a nation-wide network of 30 Catholic, co-ed college preparatory schools providing education to young men and women of all faiths, with limited financial means.

Enrollment to increase steadily

After all of the planning and more than $1 million in renovations to transform the facility into a high school that will eventually support 400-500 students, including adding signage, building office suites, replacing lighting and ceiling tiles and putting into place all of the technology infrastructure, founding president Andrew Stith is looking forward to seeing student successes in the classroom and the workplace.

He said they face challenges every day, but that having a flexible staff is key.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School students attend a required business training camp at the West Milwaukee school, July 23. All 130 students entering the school this fall were required to attend the June 29 through July 24 camp to prepare them for what to expect when school starts Aug. 17. View or purchase related photos. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)“Our staff is coming together from around the country, and we have kids that are coming from over 30 different elementary schools around the Milwaukee area, some from Catholic schools, many from public schools, a few from charter schools….” Stith said. “They’re (the teachers) really good, they’re energetic, they’re excited to be here, they’re all about our mission, they’re rooted in the Catholic faith, they know what this is about and they will go to the ends of the Earth to help these kids.”

Stith said they want to graduate people prepared to go to college, but also to live for others and understand their role as people of faith.

“We want people who have built a Catholic faith that is evident in not only what they say, but also what they do, and I also think that understanding the work context and how they operate in the work context and how what they learn at school can help them at work and what they learn at work can help them at school. …” he said. 

Growth can be found in any high school, but the Cristo Rey workplace component allows for exponential growth, he said.

Corporate Work Study Program Partners for the 2015-2016 Academic year:

Columbia St. Mary’s
Hatch Staffing Services, Inc.
Quarles & Brady, LLP
U.S. Bank
Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, S.C.
Children’s Hospital & Health System
Discovery World
Marquette University
Associated Bank
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School
WE Energies
Weyco Group
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Robert W. Baird & Co, Inc.
Baker Tilly
BMO Harris Bank
Johnson Controls Inc.
Phoenix Investors, LLC
Wheaton Franciscan 
Froedert Health
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

“That dimension makes learning so much more real, and it also gives our students a glimpse at what could be, what they could have and that’s incredibly motivational for students who don’t have that around their daily lives, in their daily lives,” he told the Catholic Herald July 23. “So, I’m excited because I think for us light bulbs will turn on and kids will grow and discover who they are in new ways that are prompted by some of the things that we do.”

Blended learning is new approach

Wendy Gutierrez, 14, a Notre Dame Middle School graduate, said she liked the blended learning math model they are using – Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS), a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to determine what a student knows and doesn’t know in the course. It’s one that Stith said is being used by only a few schools in the Cristo Rey network.

“I think it’s actually pretty cool, because like in the last year, I would have to stick with the whole class and I wouldn’t be able to like move on. I wasn’t able to actually get one-on-one with the teacher. I’m happier,” she said. 

Gutierrez, who hopes to attend the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater to become an architect, said she wanted to come to the school because it was “unique.” That’s the same reason Pierce Gilliam, 14, wanted to attend.

“I figured it was an experience I couldn’t pass up,” said Gilliam, a graduate of Mother of Good Counsel Parish School, who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin —Madison to become a veterinarian. 

Marsia Sanchez, 37, a wife and mother of three children who attend Desatar Ministry in Milwaukee, said her son Isaias expressed interest in Cristo Rey and is actually the one who encouraged her to read about it. 

“He really wanted to go because of the work experience he was going to be getting and also how they do more of a hands-on than just their noses stuck in books and whatnot; it’s more of a computer-based learning environment,” she said in a telephone interview with Catholic Herald. “And when I read all about that and how they’re teaching them how to be involved in the community or also be involved in or actually get a work ethic environment, I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds pretty cool.’” 

Choice program makes it affordable

It was also affordable for her family through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, part of the school’s financial model which also includes fundraising and the CWSP. 

Marsia not only liked that the network’s schools taught good values and morals in line with what she and her husband teach their kids at home, and that they were good schools with high attendance and graduation rates, but also that Cristo Rey would offer her son a small learning environment similar to what he had at Bruce Guadalupe Middle School.

“The way Cristo Rey is going to be helping him is he’s like an onion, so they’re peeling him layer by layer and it’s working. …” she said. “He shows he’s more confident after they did the summer bridge program. … I think that’s one of the best qualities that Cristo Rey has that they’re going to give my son the confidence he’s going to need to prepare for him in the future, in the long run,” she said.

Isaias had participated in a program for children with learning disabilities at his previous school, and Marsia said he was concerned that he would struggle with paying attention or catching up at Cristo Rey.

But Marsia said the opposite is true – Cristo Rey has made him feel good about himself, and that has helped make up for him having to miss a family vacation in order to attend the summer program.

“The first week they called me to congratulate me on how well he was doing, how he was scoring higher in math than his other scores in middle school when he was an eighth-grader and how he was improving remarkably, so I think that’s kind of what encouraged him more and didn’t make him feel as bad that he was missing out on the trip,” she said.

While at first Isaias wasn’t fond of having to remove his facial hair – his mustache had been his “pride and joy” since sixth grade – and he didn’t like how wide the pants of his uniform were, he called her, excited about his placement with Wheaton Franciscan.

“He was just going on and on about how it was going to be good for him,” she said, adding that it also opened his eyes to other career opportunities.

She’s pleased with what they’ve accomplished with her son in just the summer program.

“I’m glad they opened it here because it’s going to give so many kids the opportunity to be successful,” she said, predicting, “it’s going to bring a lot of success to a lot of kids, a lot of Hispanics and a lot of African-American kids.”

Business leaders see value

John Utz, executive vice president and head of corporate banking and specialized financial services for Associated Bank, who moved to Wisconsin from the Los Angeles office with his boss in 2010, was familiar with the CWSP model because of Associated Bank’s involvement with Verbum Dei High School there; Associated Bank is also involved with the Chicago Cristo Rey Jesuit High School CWSP.

He has seen how students mature and how they are transformed through Cristo Rey schools from beginning at age 14 to ending at age 17 or 18, and how they change from apprehensive on the job to being “a part of the crew.”

“What we will expect in Milwaukee is kind of that same transition where we get as much value from them as hopefully they’re getting value from us, because you’re creating leaders and showing them experiences that they might not get to experience in the traditional school environment,” he said, adding that he’s a little biased because he attended Brophy College Preparatory, a Jesuit high school in Arizona, for two years before his father’s job relocated his family to California. “I think it’s pretty powerful and it makes a meaningful difference.” 

Utz, who serves on the board of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, Milwaukee Film, the Finance Committee of the United Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club, said Associated Bank was on board to partner with the Milwaukee school early on in the process, and drafted one team of students this school year.

“We have them set up to deal with our HR, with legal, with PR, with marketing, with the lending groups, tour through the retail network, so they’re getting just that broader experience of what it’s like to work at Associated, which is kind of cool because it’s something that even some of the people that work here don’t get to fully appreciate on the day-to-day basis,” he said.

Each student received an Associated Bank hat, jersey, backpack, notepad and three, fourth-row seats to a Brewers game with parking, on the draft day.

He said he applauds the parents supporting this type of endeavor, but that it also takes the support of the school and the community to make it work.

“If we talk about Milwaukee and there’s all this concern about brain drain and the amount of folks that leave Milwaukee and maybe go to Chicago or come here from Chicago and then go back, if you look at some of the phenomena … we need to start investing in this level of folks so that they’re sticking around in Milwaukee,” he said. “We have to create our own future leaders and this is the type of program that can do that.”

He wants kids to be successful, and the more people vested in their success, showing them they care will only help to create a positive, upward cycle, he said.

“We’re all part of the same community, right, and it takes all of us to make the community better and It just can’t be some people doing it and other folks not … but when you kind of all work together and we weave our community together and everybody’s involved and everybody’s towards that common goal, that’s when that one plus one equals three comes in.”

Investment in people

He also said partnering with Cristo Rey is not just a charitable donation.

“I mean this is an investment in people and an investment in the community and I’d say any business, whether it’s private to corporate or smaller or larger, is all going to benefit from that kind of mutual investment into the success of our future leaders of the city.”

Grady Crosby, vice president of public affairs and chief diversity officer for Johnson Controls, said one of the company’s core values is community engagement and involvement, and part of that is supporting educational initiatives and children in the community.

Cristo Rey is one way to do that, and isn’t totally foreign to Johnson Controls, because its automotive business based in Plymouth, Michigan, has been supporting the Detroit Cristo Rey High School for quite some time.

“They have continued to rave about the school, not only the success of the engagement with the students, but just the positive energy that’s generated there by the employees who participate in that program, and so it ends up not only being something beneficial for the students but also for our employees from the engagement standpoint.” Crosby said. “So they get just as much out of it in terms of knowing their contribution to the development of young professionals in the Detroit area, so when the opportunity came up for us to do it in Milwaukee, it definitely felt fairly natural to expand our relationship with Cristo Rey and help the Milwaukee program kind of get off the ground.”

Johnson Controls drafted 12 students – each receiving a shirt, pen and book bag – who will cover three different positions across different functional groups within the Johnson Controls operations. Some will work in the public affairs group, the human resources department, the campus security team, and accounting team in the battery business.

Model is win-win

“I guess we take for granted the fact that we get up and we get dressed nicely and come into this great environment and so our kids kind of see that and they see what mom or dad does, but for a lot of kids in our community, they don’t have exposure to that so just having the exposure to a professional working environment I think is going to be something that is going to be very beneficial to the students as well,” he said, noting that they will learn about accountability, expectations regarding dress and communication, making them more marketable as they prepare for college and the work force.

It also gives Johnson Controls a chance to begin to build relationships early, he said.

“It gives us an opportunity to help build our talent pipeline because at some point we’re going to need the talent that this generation represents as well, so to already kind of have a format for engagement is good for Johnson Controls,” Crosby said. “And hopefully we can start at least giving them exposure to our company culture and, who knows, at some point down the future the engagement might be on a permanent, full-time basis.”

The Cristo Rey model is a win-win, according to Crosby.

“We give back to the community and the students, through our participation with the program and the students get this real-world exposure and this business experience that really supplements their classroom education so it’s a win-win for the businesses and the students and it also is a way to help to kind of build a way to retain local talent right here in Milwaukee.”