Students at a Cristo Rey High School
Students at a Cristo Rey High School. Courtesy of the school network

CBRE San Diego and 33 other companies will partner with Cristo Rey San Diego to launch a work-study high school for area inner-city youth next year

The independent, non-profit, faith-based campus will affiliate with the country’s largest high school network for low-income students.

“Cristo Rey San Diego High School will serve students of families with limited economic means,” said Bob Nascenzi, a San Diego-based entrepreneur and founding president of the school. “We will welcome students of all faiths and cultures to partake in a unique learning environment that provides them with a foundation for success.”

Cristo Rey San Diego’s work-study program means students spend four days in the classroom and one day working at one of the school’s corporate partners to help pay for their tuition while obtaining practical, real-world experience. The Cristo Rey network started in 1996 with more than 15,500 students graduating from the program since its inception. Total enrollment for the 2018-2019 academic year across all 35 affiliated schools currently in operation exceeds 12,000. In 2017, 100 percent of Cristo Rey graduates received college and university acceptance letters, with 90 percent of them enrolling in four-year or two-year institutions. More than 3,400 corporations partner with at least one Cristo Rey school in a work-study program.

“Cristo Rey offers a terrific opportunity for students who desire, but can’t afford, a college preparatory education,” said John Frager, executive managing director at CBRE in San Diego, one of Cristo Rey San Diego’s corporate sponsors. “Having the students work in a professional business environment like ours provides valuable career experience for them, but also great benefits to organizations like ours. We’re excited to be a part of this!”

To qualify for the mandated work-study program students must be at least 14-years-old on or before Sept. 1 of their freshman year, present legal verification of their U.S. citizenship or another form of legal residence in the U.S., possess or acquire a Social Security number and commit to working five full days a month. Cristo Rey San Diego will provide transportation for the students to and from their designated workplace.

San Diego-based Sempra Energy is also participating in the work-study program.

“I’ve worked with Cristo Rey students for several years,” said Martha Wyrsch, executive vice president and general counsel for Sempra Energy. “You will not find a more dedicated group of young people wanting to learn and contribute meaningfully in a work environment. At Sempra Energy, we believe part of being a purpose-driven company is supporting the communities we serve and I’m excited that we can help these individuals have the opportunity to succeed in an office workplace.”

It will open with the first 9th-grade class in August 2020 and add a freshman class each year afterward. The school will operate in the Southcrest neighborhood and will announce the specific location after finalizing the tenant agreement. Tuition for each student will vary depending on each family’s financial circumstances and, when combined with money earned through the work-study program and private philanthropy, will cover the cost of attending Cristo Rey San Diego. The school will also establish extracurricular sports and education activities, with the help of sponsors, to provide a well-rounded learning environment.

“Cristo Rey offered me the opportunity to achieve more than I could ever imagine,” said Giang Pham, a 2018 graduate of Cristo Rey San Jose who now attends UC San Diego. “I was eager to pursue my passion for computer science and Cristo Rey connected me with some of the greatest work opportunities at Steinberg Architect, Stanford and Juniper Networks.”

Pham continued “There was no way my family could afford to send me to a private school without the help of Cristo Rey. The Corporate Work Study Program made private education possible for low-income students such as myself.”

“My parents could not afford to send me to this school,” Pham said. “The work program made it possible. I tell other students in a similar predicament to not pass by this opportunity to go to where their friends go. Cristo Rey gave me my future!”

Nascenzi and Cristo Rey San Diego’s board of directors seek to raise $2.5 million to cover the startup and first four years of operating costs, with nearly 40 percent of those funds already secured. The success of the schools in other cites has demonstrated that the work-study program is a sustainable model for providing a quality education to inner-city children.

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