Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – One of the nation’s most effective college prep and work experience programs will soon come to the Sooner State in one year. Thanks to existing state policy, students from economically-challenged backgrounds will be able to access the high-quality high school education model and job program beginning in fall 2017.
A total of 32 similar schools, in the Cristo Rey network, are currently in operation across the United States.
Renee Alvarado Porter has been named president of the planned Cristo Rey High School Oklahoma City, officials with the program said.
In a press release about the school, which will operate from leased space at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City, Porter said, “I believe that every child – regardless of zip code or income – has the right to a high quality education that readies them for success in college and in a career. I feel deeply humbled and blessed to help establish and lead a school that supports that mission.”
Helping to bring the vision into reality is one of the state’s most prominent business and civic leaders, Gene Rainbolt, who founded Bancfirst in Oklahoma City. He embraced the program and is becoming familiar with one of existing schools in Cleveland, Ohio, in recent years.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK this week, Rainbolt said, “In the course of my travels, I met a lovely, very bright and accomplished woman named [Susan Brooks] Murphy.” Murphy, a well-known business owner and philanthropist in Ohio, “is involved with Cristo Rey [at St. Martin De Porres School] in Cleveland. She told me the stories about that school’s many successes, including its with students who work to help pay for their tuition at Cristo Rey.
“I learned the details about the marvelous education these students receive. I also learned that the students develop an ability to socialize with others of different backgrounds as a result of their work experiences.
“Based on my many years helping programs with young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and in education with children who face challenges, I’ve learned that many of them do not feel they belong in professional settings. The students who go to the Cristo Rey schools learn that they do belong. They gain experiences that will last them a lifetime.
“When the leaders here in Oklahoma City formed the Cristo Rey feasibility committee to study establishment of a Cristo Rey school, they contacted me. I told them that not only am I not a Catholic, but I’m not even a very good Methodist. They told me they wanted me involved any way. So, I replied to ‘count me in.’
“I want to share something broader, and that is my mantra on education policy issues. Until Oklahoma gives every child the opportunity to be all that he or she can be, we have not succeeded as a society.
“I’m all about equality of opportunity. The opportunity gap in Oklahoma is enormous. I’m involved in these issues because I want to everything I can to close that gap.”
As for Murphy, when her college alma mater honored her as a prominent and successful alumni, officials said, “As a volunteer at St. Martin de Porres High School, a Cleveland school that’s part of the Cristo Rey Network, she developed and directed the counseling program to help the school’s at-risk students and later created the school’s college counseling program to help students prepare for the next step.”
Porter, in an exchange with CapitolBeatOK on Wednesday (August 3) said the Cristo Rey model can be implemented in Oklahoma thanks to the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship fund. “The majority of the contribution can be directed to Cristo Rey to provide scholarships to our low income students. The tax credit scholarship is a terrific way to support the school and ensure more Oklahoma children get a high quality education.”
Individuals or businesses can make financial gifts through the Catholic Schools Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Those resources can be used to support education at Cristo Rey and other schools.
Discussing the system in the interview, Porter continued, “Cristo Rey schools across the country are changing lives and providing opportunities for academic and personal success and fulfillment where that opportunity might not have existed before. I’m excited to do that in our community in Oklahoma City, and to provide another option for children who are serious about learning and bettering themselves. I think we can have a profound impact on these children and their families, and I’m thankful for everyone who worked so hard to make this possible.
“Cristo Rey graduates are completing four year colleges at a rate above the national average and more than twice the rate of their low income peers. Every child should have the option to attend a high quality education to allow them to succeed.”
While state law already allows the tuition scholarship program, Porter said quality education could be bolstered through creation of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which thus far have fallen short after long debate in the state Legislature.
Porter told CapitolBeatOK, “Cristo Rey is a unique model where a rigorous college prep education is coupled with a corporate work study program. Our students work one day a week in the offices of our corporate partners. A student’s earnings underwrite a majority of their college prep tuition. Passage of an ESA would allow parents to direct a portion of their student’s state funding in a variety of ways to help their student succeed, including paying private school tuition like Cristo Rey.”