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Cristo Rey Oklahoma City High School set to open fall 2017

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Cristo Rey OKC school president Renee Porter, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Cristo Rey OKC school president Renee Porter, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.

Renee Porter knows the importance of education. Throughout her professional career with groups such as Choice Matters and Scissortail Community Development Corporation, she has worked to provide educational options for all families.

So when Porter was named the first president of Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic School, one of her first public statements was to let the community know that “every child, regardless of ZIP code or income, has the right to a high-quality education.”

That is the foundation for Porter and her new school.

“That’s extremely important to me. For most people, their education is what allows them to be  functional, successful adults,” Porter said. “If a good education is out of reach to you for whatever reason, you are at a huge disadvantage professionally and personally. If only certain areas of the state or people of certain economic backgrounds can get good educations, then we are creating a cycle of poverty and low attainment that is enormously harmful to us as individuals, damaging to our state economy and morally wrong.”

That way of thinking might seem contrary to the stereotypes that have surrounded many private schools. But officials at Cristo Rey hope to change that perception when the school opens its doors in the fall of 2017. According to Porter, the school will offer families with limited educational opportunities an affordable and transformative educational option.

“Every Cristo Rey school is designed to provide a world-class education to children who might otherwise not have access to one,” Porter said. “Obviously, we can’t solve the world’s problems by ourselves, but for the 10,000-plus kids who go to Cristo Rey schools, they have received a lifeline to a future they otherwise would have had no idea existed.”

Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School will be the newest member of the Cristo Rey Network, which is a group of college preparatory high schools that serve more than 10,000 low- and modest-income students across the nation. The network launched 20 years ago and now consists of 32 Cristo Rey schools in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

According to Cristo Rey, nationwide, only 15 percent of students who come from low-income families graduate from four-year colleges and universities. The numbers are just slightly better for all income levels at 23 percent.

But Cristo Rey alums are completing four-year institutions at a rate of 32 percent.

“Cristo Rey Oklahoma City will provide an excellent Catholic secondary education to a wider segment of our community for families who might never have considered such an option,” said Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. “Its unique education model combines quality academics with the opportunity to gain valuable work experience for young men and women as they prepare for higher education and the workplace. Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School will have a tremendous impact on the spiritual and professional lives of our students.”

Because it’s also a Catholic school, Cristo Rey officials say they combine academics with real-world work experience to prepare students for college and life.

“We are open to students of all faiths, but we emphasize spiritual growth, faith-based values and personal responsibility,” Porter said. “We exist to provide a great educational opportunity to low-income families in underserved communities. A lot of times, when these families hear ‘private school,’ the assumption is that it is financially out of reach. At Cristo Rey, 100 percent of our students receive financial assistance.”

Cristo Rey also offers students its Corporate Work Study Program in which students work one day a week in professional settings to help pay for their tuition.

“We are giving them exposure to the real world and job experience that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” Porter said. “Students are exposed to mentors, careers and a connection to what is taught in the classroom. Students acquire the soft skills they need to succeed in the workplace. They also graduate high school with a … resume that most young people their age don’t have.”

Cristo Rey leaders said they felt Oklahoma City was the right place in which to open a school.

“In fall of 2015, a Cristo Rey steering committee made up of people in and around Oklahoma City launched a feasibility study to measure interest and support for a Cristo Rey school,” Porter said. “We wanted to determine first, are there students and families interested in this kind of educational experience? Second, are businesses willing to participate in the Corporate Work Study program that makes the school financially viable?”

Porter said community support was “overwhelming.”

According to Porter, Cristo Rey has already received letters of intent from more than 30 business executives to hire students as part of the Corporate Work Study Program at companies such as Boeing, Mercy Health, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, BancFirst, Phillips Murrah and Cox Communications.

Cristo Rey Oklahoma Catholic High School will be located at 900 N. Portland Ave. in a leased space at OSU-Oklahoma City. According to officials, the school’s full enrollment goal is 500 students.

The school will serve 125 ninth-grade students in its first year of operation and will add an additional 125 students each subsequent year until it serves grades nine through 12.

“I want to see hardworking kids have access to a good future — that includes both college and a career — that they otherwise could have never imagined,” Porter said. “And I want to strengthen our community by building bridges between the business community and the families and children who attend Cristo Rey.”

Print headline: Rey of hope, Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School plans to open its doors to metro students in fall 2017.

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