Peter McCourt

The Rev. Peter J. McCourt is president of Cristo Rey Richmond High School, located on the old Benedictine campus near the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

By Peter J. McCourt

During the final week of January, communities like ours across the nation celebrated National School Choice Week — a week designed as an opportunity to consider the educational options available to young people in our local community as part of a “non-partisan, non-political, independent public awareness effort.”

According to its website, “NSCW recognizes all K-12 options, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. Started in 2011, NSCW is now the world’s largest annual celebration of opportunity in education. The various celebratory events raise public awareness of the different K-12 education options available to children and families while also spotlighting the benefits of school choice.”

Our U.S. educational system has always offered school choice in the form of various private options and still does today — namely Catholic parochial schools, other faith-based/denominational schools, and secular private schools. Having school choice means giving parents access to the best education options for their children.

Various studies in recent years have shown that school choice strengthens schools overall and improves the quality of education in general, by increasing competition and raising the level of conversation, attention, and interest in education, which in turn often means increased funding and support for educational programs across the board. And school choice is, above all, empowering parents and helping students achieve their dreams, in the manner and environment they determine to be the best for their student.

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I believe every child in Virginia deserves an effective, challenging, as well as motivating educational experience. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,” and all children should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.

As research shows, empowered parents who chose the educational environment they believe works best for their kids are more likely to see their children succeed and graduate from high school. Every child is unique, a one-of-a-kind treasure, and students thrive best when they are matched with learning environments that meet their individual needs and aspirational goals.

I am happy to share about one such new environment.

Rising high school students from limited-income families now have a dynamic new choice for high school in Richmond: Cristo Rey. This year, Richmond will become the 37th city in the U.S. to have a school that is part of the only network of high schools in the nation designed exclusively for limited-income students.

From freshman year, Cristo Rey schools establish a culture of high expectations by blending rigorous academic preparation, significant professional work experience through the Corporate Work Study Program, Catholic educational values, and support for students to and through college.

This unique educational model has powerful formational impact on students — demystifying the world outside their neighborhoods, developing valuable workplace readiness skills, introducing them to inspirational role models and supportive mentors, and building the competence, confidence, and aspiration so important to college and career success.

Each student receives a job at one of our work-study partners and will work five full days a month at their business location — and will spend the rest of the month in a high-achievement academic classroom. This opens up for the student a world of possibility never considered for their own future, in college and in life.

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By selecting this new Catholic private school option, students with limited economic resources will graduate from Cristo Rey prepared academically to succeed in college, and have four years of significant work experience in an outstanding local company or nonprofit. Across the country, Cristo Rey students graduate from college at three times the national rate for students from similar economic backgrounds.

A recent U.S. News & World Report article describes Cristo Rey’s impact: “In a world where the social fabric is fraying, Cristo Rey weaves it back together. Businesses, schools, churches, families, children, and communities all come together in the mutual pursuit of providing quality education. As a result, students enjoy a more diverse experience than they would get in a traditional educational setting; co-workers get to meet, mentor and learn from students who may come from a different background than their own; support for the school is cultivated in the community; and families are able to afford an education that would otherwise be beyond their reach.”

By choosing Cristo Rey, the lives of our students and their families will be different because we will provide the resources required for their success in getting to and through college — and joining the workforce fully prepared to be successful.

The choice is clear. With Cristo Rey now a viable alternative for students from limited-income families, Richmond’s educational outcomes are about to change for the better. The Cristo Rey model, along with our students, their families, and our work-study partners, will together change the trajectories of Richmond’s under-resourced students, families, and neighborhoods forever. That is certainly a choice worth making and celebrating.

The Rev. Peter J. McCourt is president of Cristo Rey Richmond High School.

For more information, please visit CristoReyRichmond.org or call (804) 447-4704.

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