“How are your students doing?” Everybody has been asking us this since the rioting and unrest on April 27. We’ve answered calls from donors, from other schools around the country and even the world, and from many reporters.
Often the conversations that arise from this question have highlighted the great divide we have in this country between neighborhoods, among social classes, and in our different life experiences. Most of these conversations have been positive, but not all.
Our students and faculty took great exception to a website reporter from a business publication who called our students “poor” in a story he wrote about Cristo Rey Jesuit. “I felt so belittled,” one of our seniors told us. That is exactly the problem with which our city and our nation are grappling in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray in an under-served Baltimore neighborhood.
We opened our doors eight years ago to educate students from across this city who can’t afford other private college preparatory schools. Our families are the working families who have always called Baltimore home. Their households might be headed by a single parent or two parents, a young mother or a seasoned grandparent, two mothers or a mother and a father. These parents may be full-time students. They may have a job at one of the city’s hospitals, work as a receptionist at a government agency, or provide day care for other working families. Some receive social services, and some do not.
In short, they are like so many families across this country that are raising kids, paying bills, calculating college costs. Extra expenses like school rings, field trips or prom could make a big dent in their monthly budgets.
It is time that people see the shared commonalities that they have with other families instead of merely dismissing them. For one, it is very short-sighted – frankly, we have lost count of the number of CEOs who support our school and who came from modest upbringings themselves. Some of them have reconnected with the Baltimore City for the first time through Cristo Rey Jesuit. Secondly, only a rekindled sense of our shared humanity and profound kinship can drive out that lingering suspicion that some human beings have more dignity than others.
“It is time that people see the shared commonalities that they have with other families instead of merely dismissing them.”
A new study on the federal Moving to Opportunity program was presented recently to the Obama administration. One of its biggest findings was that moving children out of impoverished neighborhoods is the best way to improve their life.
That makes sense, but the approach we’ve taken at Cristo Rey Jesuit is somewhat opposite. We have not abandoned Baltimore: We have situated ourselves in what had been a shuttered neighborhood Catholic school and to teach and to develop the next generation of this city’s leaders by engaging businesses in the education of today’s teenagers.
All of our families pay up to $2,500 in tuition per year, based on a sliding scale. Students also work five days a month for a corporate internship at a business like T. Rowe Price or the Baltimore Museum of Art, which in turn contributes toward their intern’s education here. In fact, more than 115 businesses in the metropolitan area employ our students, and in doing so, invest in the future of this city. We also have scholarship benefactors from all across the area who likewise support our students.
In other words, a lot of people come together to make the education happen here at Cristo Rey Jesuit. I humbly offer this as proof of what can happen when folks are brought together for a unifying goal.
Our school is not the only answer to a better future for Baltimore, but it is one example of the work we can do together for this city and its young people.
Cristo Rey Jesuit