Cristo Rey Kansas City: Empowering Youth to Building Fulfilling Lives

Amongst the full trees, historical buildings, and busy community lies a vibrant campus thriving with students who have hope and the drive to reach their dreams, no matter what the circumstances. The promise here shines brightly with violet and gold to represent the community supported facility of Cristo Rey Kansas City, A Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth high school. At any point in the year, you will find charismatic faculty members empowering the student body to accomplish their goals. This strong foundation is set in midtown Kansas City, often referred to as the “compassion quarter” by the local citizens and business people. It stands amid the Redemptorist Food Pantry, American Red Cross, the VFW with its flags flying high and the remarkable church -– Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Redemptorist Church, that shares land and a strong connection with the school.

The first Cristo Rey high school opened in South Chicago in 1996. The school introduced an innovative integration of academic and professional work experience to help economically disadvantaged children to assist in funding their education. This concept had immediate appeal to educators across the country, and philanthropists soon followed. Through the enthusiastic support of charitable investors, it has grown to a national network of thirty-two schools.

In 2006, Cristo Rey Kansas City was the eleventh school to form within the network. Rebecca Summers – the Director of Institutional Advancement shares with us that the school fills a void in the urban core as there are not many options for high school education for students whose families do not have the resources to access private school education. They provide young people a college prep education, get them into college and support them as they pursue degrees.

Kansas City’s Cristo Rey graduates have a 100% college acceptance rate. The first class graduated in 2010 and today, they have nearly 500 graduates. The national statistics, on comparable students suggest nine to fourteen percent of these students should receive college degrees. Cristo Rey Kansas City confirms 60 percent of their graduates have gone on to pursue college degrees.

Cristo Rey is the only network of high schools in the country that integrate four years of college preparatory academics with four years of professional experience through a corporate work study program. Half of the student’s tuition is paid by fundraising paired with what parents can afford, which is assessed by a third party. The other half is covered by the work study program. This is how they help to admit students with high economic needs. Nationwide there are 11,508 graduates, 1,745 staff members, 45 University Partners and 2,500 Corporate work study partners. Kathleen Hanlon, Ph.D. and President of Cristo Rey Kansas City reminds us that, “there are few jobs for people without education, and work experience is essential for establishing and nurturing a fulfilling career. For these reasons, a school whose mission is to provide college preparatory academics, differentiated by corporate work experience, is a winning solution.”

Michael Padow, now the Assistant Vice Principal, was a founding faculty member. He was drawn to Cristo Rey to fulfill a career in urban education to provide students with economic need an opportunity to grow and excel. These students often have low expectations and little hope for a future in education and a developing career. Padow is proud that Cristo Rey is literally a “school that works” as both faculty and students work to build confidence and drive success. He shares that even with the school’s growth it remains a tightly knit family of parents, students, donors, job sponsors, and staff. There is always a dedicated staff person, tutor, or mentor looking out for the best interests of the students. He has seen all of the graduates from the first seniors in 2010 and says it’s incredible to see students coming back to the school to share their stories. The alumni keep in touch, share their success, ask for help with college or job opportunities, or just stop by to say hello. One of the graduates shared, “I am 23 years old, and I am the only one of my friends who can speak professionally with adults and coworkers, Cristo Rey taught me that when I was 14.” This is a testament to what the school is doing to impact the lives of their students in a positive way.

The vital partnership with Kansas City is what opens the doors and makes the connection towards success with the students and their families. The Corporate Work Study Program requires that each student work five days per month in a corporate setting. This allows the students to learn “how to work,” while also teaching them the value of their education and where hard work with integrity can lead them. Students engage in real life experiences with role models and begin to learn the culture of working in a professional environment. TIVOL is honored to have shared in the experience with students since 2010 when Brian Butler, TIVOL President, was inspired to become involved with the Work Study Program. He was introduced to this uplifting and charitable organization through his parish. Brian, along with many of his other parish members, became involved with the beginning stages of the school and its programs. After he realized how much this program could benefit the students, he thought this would be an excellent addition to the TIVOL culture.

The student’s real-life experiences and the work study program are extremely valuable to their growth from freshmen year on into their careers. Brian inspired us to embark on this journey, and we haven’t looked back since. It is remarkable for us to see them go from students, to staff and eventually a part of our family. Since starting the program, TIVOL has hosted nine students, who have all brought their unique talents to our stores. 

All of Cristo Rey students’ work study programs require them to dress professionally as a part of training for real-world business expectations. Some of the children and their families do not have the means to buy such attire for their work, so the school, its sponsors, philanthropists and partnering companies donate wardrobe pieces. The students feel confident and supported walking through the doors of their place of employment and beyond. Butler remembers the days when Harold Tivol would pass down suits, shirts, and ties from his closet for the students to walk proudly to work; looking dapper and polished, like fine young gentlemen. Cathy Tivol also donated ladies attire that would make the young ladies feel chic and elegant. When students get to "dress for success" they can experience the feeling of looking good; contributing to their self-esteem in order to help them achieve their goals.

We will forever be touched by the connection to this unique experience. As much as the students share their stories of gratitude, we have equally benefited from having them be a part of our lives. We are happy to continue on this path. Along with the innovative work of Cristo Rey and the obstacles that students overcome, we look forward to the good that is yet to be for Kansas City.