SAVING OUR SONS

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At Christ the King School hard work pays

      In the red and white, state-of-the-art classroom, the students listened carefully as their coach spoke about the upcoming track season. They raised their hands to answer questions about what it takes to be successful in the sport, shouting out “focus,” “motivation,” “building skills” and “having a positive attitude.”
  Principal Robert Evans, tall and youthful, then took over, explaining that track is his favorite sport. “From sixth grade through junior year I was running,” he said. “I went to school debt-free on a track scholarship.”
He then told the students that discipline is extremely important in track and that goals must be set. “You have to figure out where your skills are and hone in,” he said. “Don’t think you’re good – be good.”
           At Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, all students – not just those in track – learn about commitment. By graduation, the school’s aim is that students will also have learned to be open to growth, intellectually competent, loving, committed to justice and a seasoned, responsible worker. Since 2008, the school has served the Austin neighborhood and surrounding areas—neighborhoods where gang members hang out on the street corners while students inside the school’s brand new walls are given knowledge, faith and hope for the future.
           Back in the classroom one recent day, Evans showed a few YouTube videos of record-breaking runners on a large projection screen. He said it is important for everyone to know last year’s results and world records so the students can set goals for themselves. Mentioning the story of The Little Prince, Evans told the students that they must “dream for the endless immensity of the sea.”
            A few minutes later, in a large conference room, Evans described the way students receive their real world education. The school uses what is known as the Cristo Rey model, which Evans said incorporates a corporate work study program that helps pay 75 percent of each student’s tuition. In exchange, each student works a job five days a month during school hours. They work in places like banks and law firms, Evans said.
“It gives students an opportunity to pay the bills,” he said. Evans also stressed that the number one thing at the school is that students must be employable. “You have to work.”
             Students assigned to work on any given day arrive at school at 7:30 a.m., and vans and buses take them to work, Evans explained.
“This way, students work nine to five and get to see the day to day of what people do. They work in teams of four at each location and each person works one day out of the week, alternating Mondays.”
“They undergo a battery of tests,” he said of the placement of students in an array of jobs.
Although this education model pays for 75 percent of tuition, families are still responsible for the remaining amount, which still can be costly. Evans said the school helps students who are underserved and under-resourced, and those who demonstrate need. The school also fundraises to help defray the costs of education, he said.
A quality education is coveted here in a City where the dropout rates in public schools continues to climb and many students, particularly on the West and South sides succumb to life on the streets. Evans says Christ the King is different.
“For a lot of students, I don’t have to keep them motivated. They know what they want and they know what they don’t want. I would say 95 percent of the students are highly motivated,” Evans said.
              On that 5  percent who may cause problems for the school, Evans does everything he can to help straighten them out. “I have extremely low tolerance for people who think success is optional,” he said, “My expectation is the moon, nothing less.”
              A student named Kendra is one student that Evans says embodies everything good about the school. As a junior and also a member of the school’s first class, she will be in the school’s first graduating class.
“I work at the Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest,” Kendra said. Working as a clerk, she files, makes calls and handles other general office tasks. Asked whether she wants to go into banking, she said, “At first I wanted to but not anymore. I want to be a computer engineer. I’m a computer freak.”
              Even though there are closer schools to her house, Kendra said she comes to Christ the King for a better education.
“I didn’t want to go to North Lawndale,” she said, referring to a school in another West Side neighborhood. “This is a different setting.”
             A young man named Navar is  a second semester freshman and  another promising student at Christ the King.
“This school, I like it a lot,” Navar said. “It has a lot of spirit and positive energy.”
 Working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Navar said he enjoys his work-study, taking inventory. Interested in philanthropy and law, Navar says he hopes he doesn’t have to leave this job next year. Students are not always able to stay in the same work-study.
             “I would never go to my neighborhood schools,” he said. “They hardly learn anything and the guys are always messing around in class.”
Navar also said there is a lot of gang activity at other schools and he is able to stay away from it at Christ the King.
           “Nobody here gangbangs,” he said.
             At a school in the middle of a bad neighborhood, Christ the King makes an impression on its students and seeks to prepare them for life ahead with discipline and, of course, hard work. As Evans said, “There’s only one gear – go hard.”
By Kira Stiers
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