Parents looking for an affordable, Catholic-school education for their children have a rare opportunity this fall. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington is opening a high school in Takoma Park where students pay part of their tuition through a work-study program.
The Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School is a partnership between the archdiocese and the nonprofit Cristo Rey Network, modeled after the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School of Chicago and founded in 2001 to help low-income families receive a Catholic education.
Cristo Rey spokesman Jeff Thielman said yesterday that the network was approached in 2004 by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, then archbishop of the Washington Archdiocese, who was trying to provide a Catholic education to lower-income families.
“The cardinal told us this is a great model, a great school, and he wants it here,” Mr. Thielman said.
The school is the 19th in the network, which now serves 4,400 students. Another is opening this fall in Baltimore.
Cristo Rey is the first high school that the archdiocese has opened since 1952 in the District or in the Maryland counties of Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s. The archdiocese serves about 33,000 students in early learning, elementary and 17 high schools. The school offers a college-preparatory curriculum and follows the tradition of the Salesians of Don Bosco order of priests and brothers, which began educating students in 1859.
The Takoma Park school, on Larch Avenue, will open Monday with a freshman class of 127. The students will attend classes four days a week, then spend the fifth working an eight-hour day in one of the 20 participating businesses.
Students, working in teams of four, will file, copy, fax, deliver interoffice mail, assemble information packets and perform other general office duties. Their paychecks will be given to the school to help defray their education costs. The companies will pay about $30,000 a year for each team’s work, said the school’s president, the Rev. Steve Shafran. The family of each student pays about $2,500 annual tuition.
“These corporations are not creating a job for them,” said Father Shafran, who with the school’s other administrators was trained by the network. “They’re working real jobs.”
About 80 of the students live in the District. Twenty-seven come from Prince George’s County and 20 from Montgomery County. The average family income of the students is less than $30,000.
Cristo Ray students have a 98 percent graduation rate, according to the network.
“The Cristo Rey model not only makes a quality Catholic high school education affordable, but it also engages the business and broader community directly in these young people’s lives, increasing their opportunities for success beyond high school,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, superintendent of schools for the Washington Archdiocese.
The new high school replaces Our Lady of Sorrows Elementary School, which closed last year because of declining enrollment. The school had capacity for nearly 300 students but enrollment of only 137 when it closed. The students were transferred to Catholic schools in Silver Spring and Hyattsville.
Since then, a $3.2 million interior renovation of restrooms, science classrooms and the library, and a new electrical, heating, air conditioning and Internet system, prepared the building for high school students. A temporary basketball court is being installed in the multipurpose room.
Cristo Rey will open with 17 faculty and staff members. Those numbers will be adjusted as the freshmen return as sophomores next year, and as juniors and seniors after that.