For Maritza Contreras, the Cristo Rey experience began with seeing high school kids in her neighborhood on the way to school all dressed up. She was about nine at the time and the idea of going to school in your best clothes was “the weirdest thing I ever heard of.” But she was attracted to it. She made it her goal to go to Cristo Rey High School, a private school in her Chicago neighborhood where teens were required to work part time in real jobs in real work places and to aim to go to and succeed in college so that they could become adults working in places like the ones where they did their student placements.
For Contreras, Cristo Rey meant being asked for the first time about her college plans. It meant learning a set of skills and expectations that opened avenues for her, including small but important things such as how to shake hands firmly while making eye contact with someone.
And it meant enrolling in Marquette University with major scholarship support, graduating cum laude with a degree in nursing, and setting aside her nursing ambitions “for now” to get involved in helping the community as director of administrative management services for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin.
Cristo Rey has grown also. Starting in 1996 with the school Contreras attended, there are now 30 Christo Rey schools across the country. A local school, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, opened this fall with 129 ninth graders, almost all of them low-income and benefitting from the state’s private school voucher program. The school is based in a church in West Milwaukee, just south of Miller Park. Read more »