Putting Cincinnati’s Future to Work

Photography by Liam O'Connell

In the four years since DePaul Cristo Rey High School opened its doors, it has significantly shaped the lives of Cincinnati’s youth, spreading hope and ambition throughout the community.  

DePaul Cristo Rey High School (DPCR) is unlike any other school in the area due to a distinguishing component: the Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP). This program enables low to moderate-income students to receive a college preparatory education in an affordable way while gaining real-world work experience. 

Students attend classes four days a week and work one day at their corporate partner job. Four students share a full-time position Monday through Friday. Those work-study earnings account for approximately one-third of their education costs. The rest of their education is paid through donations, and each student’s family pays a part of the tuition depending on their financial circumstances. 

The school’s first graduating class of 2015 demonstrated what this remarkable opportunity could attain – each of the 48 seniors were accepted to a college. 

“Education is the best way young people have for building a future that matters,” says Lisa Claytor, director of the Corporate Work Study Program. “And that’s the beauty of our program – youth don’t really know what’s out there unless their parents do it; otherwise they don’t get exposed to it.” 

Prior to being matched with a job, students accomplish a comprehensive 50 to 60 hours of technical and interpersonal training called Corporate Office Readiness Enrichment (CORE). “The model is, ‘We’re transforming you from a teenager into a young professional,’ ” says Claytor. “Students learn how to make good first impressions, the do’s and don’ts of the workplace, the importance of honesty and integrity.” 

Students receive comprehensive training earlier than many other schools, because the CWSP jump-starts the process. “I’ve had many principals from other schools tell me, ‘We teach our seniors how to shake hands right before they graduate,’ ” says Claytor, “but we teach students that the first day they’re here.” 

She explains how successful the CWSP has become: students in the Class of 2015 logged 58,000 hours on the job, earning $1.3 million in tuition earnings. As for corporate partners in the work-study program, DPCR has grown from 25 to 110 in four years. In addition to this increase, their retention rate is 92 percent. 

Companies participating in the CWSP not only have the opportunity to mentor students and make an educational impact in their lives, the corporate partners also gain inestimable experience and benefit from the students. 

“Initially we thought the value was just for the students, but we quickly learned that our assumption was wrong,” says David Arends, president and CEO of CR Architecture + Design. “We’ve gotten just as much benefit from the students as they have from us. It’s a fantastic partnership.” 

One of those students is Will Moore, who graduated this year. “Will is professional, articulate and genuinely engaged in everything he does,” says Arends. “He took the initiative to accomplish and learn things here we didn’t even ask him to do.” Moore worked full-time during the summer at CR and enrolled at Ohio State University to study industrial design. 

“Working for CR has been wonderful,” says Moore. “To see how a corporate environment functions, to actually be a part of it and learn how buildings are created, I get a special insight into how things work.” Moore notes the CWSP is the reason why he chose to attend DPCR. “I fell in love with the program immediately. It changes the way you think when you see the adult world at such a young age.” 

Corporate partners can expect to benefit from driven, enthusiastic and reliable workers; students have a 98 percent daily attendance rate and 94 percent “meet or exceed expectations” on performance evaluations completed by supervisors. Companies can fill key entry-level spots within their operation with the knowledge that they are making a difference in the community and nurturing tomorrow’s workforce. 

“Our job placements have a lot to do with relationships the student will have with that company,” says
Claytor. “We all know it’s not programs that change and mold people, it’s relationships.” 

She hopes to continue forging meaningful relationships in our business community, especially in industries like IT firms and advertising. “We need corporate partners who are interested in an educational opportunity for low-income families and who appreciate that education gives kids upward mobility, breaking that cycle of poverty.”

Arends recommends anyone interested in the program to visit DPCR and see how it works. He admits he was skeptical until he visited the school and saw for himself the caliber of the students and administration. Now Arends serves as a member of the board and the jobs Committee. “Take the time to tour the school, to get involved. The kids need it. I’ve seen a huge change in their lives and it’s amazing,” he says. 

DPCR anticipates the need for more corporate partners as its student enrollment expands. Claytor explains how the Cristo Rey Network has been a successful model across the country, with more than 2,000 companies participating. 

“It’s replicable and scalable in different cities to address those problems that we haven’t quite extinguished like high school drop-out rate and the achievement gap among students of diversity,” says Claytor. “We are not a silver bullet in that we’re going to solve all of those problems, but we’re going to make an impact.”

To learn more about participating in the DPCR Corporate Work Study Program, contact Lisa Claytor by email at lisa.claytor@dpcr.net , by phone at 513. 861.0600 or visit their website at www.depaulcristorey.org.