Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Gates Foundation gives $$ to Cristo Rey schools

Impressed by the success shown by a network of four Jesuit high schools in working with urban teenagers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and another major charity pledged $19 million today to bolster the schools and export the model to 12 additional cities.The Cristo Rey schools, as they are known, began in 1994, and now include schools in Portland, Ore.; Austin, Tex.; Los Angeles; and Chicago. The new money is intended to expand the program to New York City, Cleveland, Denver, Tucson, the Boston area and elsewhere.

In a telephone news conference announcing the donations, Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Gates Foundation, praised Cristo Rey schools for reversing the trend toward shuttering Catholic schools in the inner city.

In a Chicago neighborhood where 62 percent of the students do not make it to graduation, some 85 percent of the Cristo Rey students graduate, and all of this year's graduates are going on to college, said the Rev. John Foley, who founded the schools.

Mr. Vander Ark said the unusual business model of the Cristo Rey schools also intrigued the Gates Foundation. To meet expenses, the schools double as temporary employment services. Students work without pay five days a month in entry-level jobs at local businesses, which pay the schools roughly $25,000 a school year for their services. The money offsets operating costs, and the jobs provide the students with work experience.

"They're small and personalized, academically rigorous college prep programs," said Mr. Vander Ark, who praised the schools for exposing teenagers to the business world and instilling in them a "culture of respect and responsibility."