Ministry providers open opportunities for students

March 15, 2019

Catholic hospitals collaborate with Catholic college prep schools


Yahaira Valles, a 17-year-old high school student, logs the turnaround time for patients in a cardiac observation area at Atlanta's Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital, where patients are prepped for and later recover from cardiac procedures. Unit administrators use her data to improve patient flow and reduce delays.

About 400 miles away, in Cincinnati, O'Shun Jones, also 17, works in an inpatient pharmacy department at TriHealth Good Samaritan Hospital, sorting, stocking, tracking and delivering medications.

O'Shun Jones, a student at DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati, works in the inpatient pharmacy at TriHealth Good Samaritan Hospital of Cincinnati.
Don Denney

Both young women are getting an immersion in the world of work-a-day professionals and learning the soft skills they will need to thrive there as adults.

Valles and Jones are among more than 12,000 students taking advantage of college and career-preparation in the work-study curriculum used by high schools within the Cristo Rey Network. Cristo Rey operates private Catholic college prep schools in 35 cities in 22 states. It says its schools "integrate four years of rigorous college preparatory academics with four years of professional work experience."

Fr. Charles Bouchard, OP, CHA senior director, theology and sponsorship, is a member of the Cristo Rey Institute, a public juridic person that will sponsor new Cristo Rey Network schools when a local religious sponsor is unavailable. He says the schools provide a high level of support to help prepare and socialize students into the business world.

Breaking down silos
There are 38 Catholic congregations or dioceses that sponsor the schools within the Cristo Rey Network. About four dozen Catholic health care facilities employ Cristo Rey students.

Fr. Bouchard says the work-study program is "a perfect example" of the type of collaboration that Catholic health organizations should foster. It opens opportunity for young people and creates a potential pipeline to increase diversity in the professional ranks of the health care organizations down the road.

Additionally, he says, collaboration "enables us to enhance or multiply the influence of the church in society by cooperating with other Catholic ministries. It helps get health care education, social service and even parishes out of our silos."


The collaboration also benefits Cristo Rey students, says James Wilson, associate director of the Cristo Rey Network's Corporate Work Study Program. He says the students can see faith in action as they are working in the Catholic hospitals. They can see how Catholic facilities benefit their communities.

Transforming urban America
Fr. John Foley, a Jesuit priest, founded the first Cristo Rey school in Chicago in 1996 out of concern that low-income students were not pursuing college degrees. "Without college degrees, low-income youth will face enormous obstacles in transcending poverty and building professionally fulfilling and economically stable lives," Cristo Rey says on its website.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of low-income high school graduates who enroll in college climbed from 31.2 percent in 1975 to 65.4 percent in 2016. While that rate is lower than the 82.5 percent of high-income high school students who went on to college as of 2016, the students in the lowest income bracket have surpassed their middle-income counterparts for this measure.

Despite this progress, statistics show a gap for people of minority backgrounds when it comes to degree attainment. In 2017, about 54 percent of white people aged 25 to 29 had attained an associate's or higher degree, as compared with 33 percent of black people and 28 percent of Hispanic people (68 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders had attained that educational level).

Yahaira Valles, at left, works with Joan Stultz, shift nurse manager in the admission recovery unit at Atlanta's Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital. Valles is a student at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. In her work study role, she helps deliver patient specimens to the lab, prepare patient rooms and provide information to improve patient care processes.

Over 90 percent of Cristo Rey students go on to college, and nearly 60 percent of Cristo Rey grads earn college degrees.

The schools exclusively admit students of high academic potential whose families otherwise would not be able to afford private, Catholic high school tuition. About 80 percent of Cristo Rey students qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program. And, the schools enroll a predominantly minority population: 63 percent of students are Hispanic, 30 percent black, 5 percent of other ethnicities and 2 percent Caucasian.

Work study
Costs vary by market, but Chicago-based Cristo Rey says it spends an average of $14,000 per student per year. Employers pay Cristo Rey a flat fee. In Atlanta for instance the fee is $35,000 annually to employ a team of four students. Together those four students fill one full-time position during the nine-month school year.

Students work between 7.5 and 15 hours each per week. The fees paid to the work study program for their service — approximately $8,750 per student annually — are applied as a tuition stipend and cover about 60 percent of the per-student education cost. Donations from individuals and foundations make up more than 25 percent of the education cost; and the students' families pay the remainder, usually about $1,200 per year.

All incoming freshmen take part in an intensive multi-week training. In Atlanta it's called Cristo Rey Business Training Institute. The training takes place before the school year begins. Students learn computer skills and the basics of professional workplace behavior including phone etiquette, appropriate attire and how to resolve conflicts. (Returning sophomores, juniors and seniors take a three-week refresher course.)

Cristo Rey staff then match students with local employers, with staff basing the matches on interviews and evaluations of the students and on a consideration of the students' interests and skills. Students usually are employed for nine-month assignments that last for the duration of the school year, though some of the employers hire students directly for school holidays or during the summer. Employers include banks, law offices, schools, government offices, hotels, utilities, nonprofit organizations, consulting groups — and health care providers.

College track
Cristo Rey's Wilson says employers try to find slots that allow students to support and work alongside college-educated professionals. Students perform a wide variety of roles from data processing and reception to sophisticated IT support and high-end customer service.


Heather Dexter, chief executive of Emory Saint Joseph's, says hospital staff try to expose students to a variety of professions, and to give them meaningful assignments, so the students can get a fairly broad perspective on what it's like to work in a hospital.

She notes that when Emory Saint Joseph's began employing Cristo Rey students five years ago, there was some concern about putting teens in an environment where they might see patients with traumatic injury or interact with patients and families in extreme distress.

Dexter says supervisors mentor the students in all they do, teaching them how to handle challenging situations and process the experience in healthy ways.

Valles says when she began working at Emory Saint Joseph's, she initially was shy and anxious about venturing into a professional work role but the experience has given her confidence and equipped her with communications skills she knows she'll use when she attends college and begins her career. At this point, she's interested in psychology as a profession.

Jones says working at Good Samaritan in Cincinnati has reinforced her desire to pursue a "dream job" in health care, potentially in neuroscience. She'll be the first person in her family to attend college.

Terri Kennedy-Cox, the inpatient pharmacy supervisor at Good Samaritan, says as a work-study host, the hospital is "looking holistically at community needs. And I think we can't even imagine what we're pouring into the lives of these kids. We don't know how it will come back to benefit our communities, but I know it will."

She says pharmacy staff cheer the students on, taking a personal interest in their success. Staff have attended graduation ceremonies, met students' families and helped them shop for dorm room necessities when they go off to college.


Copyright © 2019 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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