By DIANA VEGA-PUGA, Special to the Bulletin | Published March 19, 2021
ATLANTA—Last year was different from all other years. 2020 brought financial problems to many people, businesses and some schools including Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, traditional revenue streams were greatly compromised, while at the same time the school incurred tremendous expense to provide remote learning capabilities and safely keep the school open for in-person instruction.
Corporate Work Study partners have been affected also, which has led to reduction in revenue from the program. In the work study program, a company hires a team of four Cristo Rey students who each work five days a month for the company. Revenue from that program sustains 60% of the cost to educate a student.
Even though Cristo Rey experienced financial challenges, they created a solution—“The Resilience Fund: Securing the Dream.”
The Resilience Fund is a 12-month campaign to raise $5 million to compensate for loss in Corporate Work Study revenue as well as reductions in annual giving and additional expenses due to COVID-19.
As of Feb. 26, the fund had received pledges and gifts of $3.7 million with a $5 million goal.
Foundation support includes a grant announcement on Nov. 2, 2020 from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation. The foundation committed to support the Resilience Fund with a $1.5 million grant. Additionally, the school has received donations from several other foundations, and 100% of the school’s board of trustees and faculty and staff have committed financially to this campaign.
The student experience
Freshman Grecia V. said that Cristo Rey’s work program is helping her decide what a future career might be.
“This gives me an opportunity to reach my goals that I have set to be successful,” she said.
Grecia added that the school’s 100 percent college acceptance rate helps her feel like she will reach her dream.
She is placed with the legal firm Nelson Mullins, but does not go into their office due to COVID. Grecia is participating in the Learning Academy professional development program.
The Learning Academy curriculum includes topics such as financial literacy, money management and building strong financial decision-making and economic-reasoning skills.
Freshman Abraham D. appreciates the real world experiences of the Cristo Rey model.
“This allows me to improve over time and gain many skills in which achieving my goals will become easier than it was before the experience” he said.
Abraham works with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Vanesa H. also a ninth grade student, is working in the professional development program.
“It’s helping me to grow as a strong person and gain the confidence to have an amazing career when I graduate,” she said.
The cost to educate each student at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit is approximately $15,000 per year, which, in addition to academics, includes books, use of a personal computer, breakfast, lunch and athletic fees. In traditional private schools, those costs are covered by tuition paid by the student’s family. Because the mission of Cristo Rey is to provide a quality, Catholic college- preparatory education to students from low-income families, parent contributions are kept affordable. The average family contributes $722 per year for their child’s education.
To cover the remaining cost, students earn approximately 60% through the corporate work study program. Donations from individuals and foundations cover the gap, or approximately 35% of the cost to educate.
The greatest impact to the school’s revenue has been the loss of Corporate Work Study fees. For the 2019-20 school year, Cristo Rey Atlanta partner companies collectively provided students with 132 paid internships. Each of these internships employed four students for a total of $4.6 million in operating funds paid to the school. Because so many corporate partners have been adversely affected by the pandemic, Cristo Rey estimated a 65% reduction in fees collected from the program.
Camille Naughton, president of Cristo Rey Atlanta, said the hope is to reach the Resilience Fund campaign goal by June 30. The school’s advancement office is overseeing the effort.
Tony Harris, who began his role as principal in July 2020, said the biggest challenge since coming on board has been COVID-19.
The best part of his new role has been the people, he said.
“If there were people who did not buy into the mission of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit, if there were people unwilling to go the extra mile, it would’ve been much more difficult,” said Harris. “One of the joys—the best part of joining this community—has been seeing how willing people are to go the extra mile, how willing people are to go above and beyond. “
It’s about more than book learning, said Harris.
“From my perspective, it is more important to teach the skills that are necessary to cope, to meet adversity and to overcome it,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Diana Vega-Puga is a student at Cristo Rey and works at the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the Corporate Work Study component of her education.