By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Cristo Rey-Kansas City High School, established in 2006 under the sponsorship of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, calls itself, “a school that works,” with a student body comprised of culturally diverse students with economic needs. One of 30 high schools in the Cristo- Rey network, Cristo Rey-KC combines academic rigor with real work experience and, since its first graduation in 2010, has seen each graduating class celebrate 100 percent acceptance to college.
It is also “probably the most diverse high school in Kansas City,” said Dr. Kathleen Hanlon, president of Cristo Rey-Kansas City. The school is serving 386 students —52 percent Latino, 41 percent African-American, 3 percent Caucasian and 4 percent Asian and other ethnicities. Cristo Rey schools are Catholic in identity, but students come from both Catholic and other faith traditions that comprise the Kansas City community – 53 percent Catholic. Students come to Cristo Rey-KC High School from about 50 different elementary and charter schools in Kansas City, Dr. Hanlon said.
The concept — academics and work which pays a portion of tuition — has been successful throughout the Cristo Rey network since its first high school opened in Chicago in 1997, and several years ago caught the attention of the Dr. Prem Reddy Family Foundation. Established by Dr. Reddy, founder and CEO of Prime Healthcare, owners of more than 30 medical centers and hospitals across the U.S., including Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., St. John’s Medical Center in Leavenworth and, since this past spring, St. Joseph Medical Center in Kansas City and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs, the nonprofit foundation has donated millions of dollars to various charities, including those that support health education, college scholarships, public healthcare education and free community clinics.
On Dec. 3, Luis Leon, President of Operations of Prime HealthCare Services, presented a check from the Dr. Prem Reddy Family Foundation in the amount of $25,000 to Cristo Rey-KC High School, to provide direct student assistance. Before the check presentation, however, Student Ambassadors Lessly Ceniceros and Avery Shook took Leon, Bob Erickson, CEO of St. Joseph Medical Center and Randy Nyp, CEO of Providence Medical Center, on a tour of the recently remodeled and renovated school building, built in 1904. Accompanying the tour group was Ted Koppen, Director of Corporate Work Study. Providence Medical Center employs several work study students from Cristo Rey.
Over the decades, the school served Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Parish as its grade school and then high school before it became home to Our Lady of the Angels School in the 1990s and then Cristo Rey High School in 2006. The gymnasium, remembered fondly by alumni athletes from schools around the city as not exactly comfortable, now has theater-style seating, basketball goals that rise toward the ceiling when not in use, and a handicapped-accessible entrance and seating area. The gym now is not only a venue for basketball and volleyball games and practices; it also serves as an activity center, theater, and dance team performance site.
Classrooms have been renovated, additional classrooms and mentoring spaces added, the concrete stairs fronting Linwood Blvd., and surrounding landscaping have been repaired, restored and beautified. The building revels in light from interior and exterior windows.
This was not done alone. As the strategic renovation plan took shape, Hanlon said a variety of individuals and foundations came forward to advance elements of the facility improvements and specific academic initiatives.
Lessly and Avery, both seniors, chatted with Leon, Nyp and Erickson during the tour, answering questions about their work-study jobs, college plans and co-curricular activities. Lessly has been working at Children’s Mercy Hospital for some time, before then she worked in the business office at St. Elizabeth’s Church. A family-oriented young woman, she has applied to several universities no more than an hour from home: Avila, Rockhurst, UMKC and Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. She is interested in majoring in Business Administration, Civil Engineering or Criminology.
Avery, an alumnus of Holy Cross grade school in Kansas City, worked at Kansas City Life Insurance Co. for three years, and now works at Kemper Art Gallery near the Kansas City Art Institute. He has been involved for three years in FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics in which Engineering and Information Technology professionals coach students through the competition. Avery has applied to the University of Arizona and Florida Institute of Technology, and is interested in majoring in Astrophysics or engineering.
Hanlon said the Kansas City community opens doors for the students of Cristo Rey. The partnerships Cristo Rey-KC has with area businesses through the Corporate Work Study Program are one very visible, and essential, sign of that community support. This academic year, students work in 110+ different business settings — hospitals, art galleries, parishes and schools, community and social service centers, insurance companies and other businesses around town. Through the Corporate Work Study Program, students work one day a week at their job, earning about half the cost of their own education, and experience the “real” world of work. Working also gives them role models who are up close and personal.
There are two all-volunteer groups working one-on-one with students in math and language arts skills. Academic coaches and Mentors have benefitted the students tremendously, she said.
In addition, Cristo Rey partners with a variety of professionals in the local community to enhance particular aspects of the academic program. For example: Hour of Code, in which students participate through their Advisory Groups and at Google Fiber to work with area elementary school students on coding activities. For Girls Who Code, two female IT professionals meet with a group of students to explore basic coding.
There is also Fine Arts enrichment, experiential seminars and workshops, including Health Day, Career Day, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field trips at area enterprises; and Service Day at local non-profits.
And this past spring, Cristo Rey became a “No Place for Hate” school, one of only nine schools in the state of Missouri.
Cristo Rey-KC students are proud of their school, and proud of their accomplishments.
All of which continues to impress the Dr. Prem Reddy Family Foundation.