By Denise Smith Amos • email@example.com • October 21, 2010
Cincinnati's first new Catholic high school in 50 years is taking shape in a former Lutheran church and school campus in Clifton.
The high school, founded by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, will be unlike any Catholic school in the area.
For starters, the school's primary market is families who generally can't afford Catholic school tuition, says Andy Farfsing, the new principal.
Families with incomes of up to 75 percent of Hamilton County's median household income qualify, as well as children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Families should call the school to see if they qualify, Farfsing said.
Cristo Rey's tuition is set on a sliding scale, based on what families can afford. Every student works one day a week in a corporation or agency to earn wages to offset tuition. The average Cristo Rey family ends up paying up to $1,200 a year, he said.
"No one in the city is doing what we're doing," Farfsing said. "We're pioneers."
When the school year begins in August, the school will become the 25th in the national Cristo Rey network, which includes a seven-year-old school in Cleveland.
All Cristo Rey schools target low-income kids and all require work-study. They also have longer than-usual-school days to fit in a college preparatory curriculum.
"It's a different way of going to school," said Juan Vargas, a Xavier University sophomore who graduated from a Cristo Rey school in Chicago.
"At first it was tough getting used to it,'' he said, "But it is totally worth it, to have experiences of working in well-known companies.''
Vargas' parents, Mexican immigrants, have sixth-grade educations. His father, a cafeteria worker, couldn't afford a Catholic education.
Cristo Rey put Juan Vargas to work at two law firms and helped him find scholarships and grants for college. Now he's majoring in social work.
The last Catholic high schools to open in Cincinnati were La Salle, Moeller and McAuley in 1960.
In recent decades, Catholic school enrollments have fallen and competition has increased.
Farfsing says he hopes to attract 80 to 100 future freshmen by the end of January, when most Catholic high school selections are made. But how do you recruit students to a school that doesn't yet exist?
DePaul Cristo Rey staff visited the usual places - Catholic elementary schools and parish churches. They canvassed neighborhoods, hung out at community centers and hit Laundromats, barbershops and hair salons. They attended Hispanic festivals and the Black Family reunion and enlisted the help of Su Casa and the Urban Appalachian Council.
"You have to go after families who've never dreamed of having and affording this Catholic high school experience," said Keianna Matthews, enrollment director.
Unlike regular archdiocesan schools, DePaul Cristo Rey has knocked on Northern Kentucky doors, including the predominantly Hispanic Cristo Rey parish in Erlanger.
Lisa Claytor, director of the work study program, said 25 employers are ready to sign contracts to employ the first 100 students.
"The first year is very solid; we're working on our second year," Claytor said.
The school is at the old Concordia Lutheran church and school on Clifton Hills Avenue. It sports a gymnasium built in 2003 that still looks new.
Classrooms are being renovated on the second floor of the main building.
Like many Catholic high schools, DePaul Cristo Rey will distribute tablet PCs to each student. Most textbooks will be loaded onto the PCs.
Students will pay a $100 annual computer repair fee, instead of the $500 or so other private schools charge per year. But students won't own their tablets after four years; they'll return them to the school for recycling.
Norah Mock, the school's development director, says she hopes DePaul Cristo Rey graduates won't send their children to their alma mater. The school is meant to be a last stop on the way to college and the middle class.
"We're going to try to break that cycle of poverty," she said.
Principal Andy Farfsing, enrollment director Keianna Matthews, center, and development director Norah Mock prepare Wednesday for the open house this weekend at DePaul Cristo Rey High School.