☰ Menu
give       volunteer       enroll

Cristo Rey brings students back to old Deaf School

JoAnne Viviano, The Columbus Dispatch • Monday August 11, 2014 4:39 AM

Looking back to a year ago, Madison Renicker remembers being shy and a little intimidated around people she didn’t know.

Entering her second year at Cristo Rey Columbus High School is different.

“Now, I’m more open,” she said, “instead of just sitting there in a little cocoon.”

Madison is one of 73 sophomores returning to Cristo Rey, a Catholic high school for low-income families of all faiths across the Diocese of Columbus. At the college-prep school, students participate in a work-study program with local businesses so they will be able to list hands-on experience on their college applications.

For its second year, the school has moved from a Franklinton building of about 7,800 square feet to the 88,000-square-foot Discovery District building that once housed the Ohio State School for the Deaf.

That building, constructed in 1899 at 400 E. Town St., had been vacant for about seven years after housing state and other offices. The site is south of the Main Library, which purchased it from Pennsylvania-based Campus Apartments for $2.16 million in 2013. The library then sold the building to Cristo Rey for $1 million while keeping the land and part of a parking lot.

Jim Foley, Cristo Rey president, said the school is undergoing $18 million in renovations, paid for through tax credits and a loan from the Columbus diocese. The building retains its ornate architecture and hardwood floors while being updated with the replacement of more than 300 windows and the addition of a chapel and state-of-the-art teaching tools and science and music labs.

Students are preparing now for their work-study experiences. Classes begin on Aug. 25, when the first three floors of the school will be open. The fourth and fifth floors are expected to open in November, Foley said.

Madison and two of her classmates were at the school last week to help out as more than 120 freshmen attended summer training in workplace skills.

The school is part of the nationwide Cristo Rey Network based in Chicago, and it hopes to eventually admit about 140 freshmen each year.

The sophomores said they were excited to be moving into the new building. All three said that their freshman year — meeting new students and gaining work experience — had changed them.

“I was shy at first,” Mara Long said. “I think I’m better at talking to people now, and maybe more mature.”

Marlena Mitchell said she was “really nervous” when she started her job at Grange Insurance, thinking, “What if they don’t like me? What if I mess up a lot?” But at the end of the school year, she was asked to stay on for a summer job helping with mail.

Carolyn Flahive, the director of Cristo Rey’s work-study program, said more businesses are signing on to accommodate the new class. Although businesses provided students with about 20 positions last year, she expects nearly 50 this year. Among the workplaces are law firms, government agencies and hospitals. Four students fill every full-time slot, each working five or six days a month.

The school-year money that students earn goes to Cristo Rey to cover about 40 percent of the school’s $3.7 million annual operating costs, Foley said. The remaining funds come from state vouchers, donations and tuition paid by families. Tuition is income-based and ranges from $250 to $2,000 a school year.

Madison, like Marlene, worked at Grange last year. Mara worked at Safelite Group, helping with invoicing, and she also was asked to work over the summer break.

Laurie Campos, who oversaw the students at Safelite, said she initially wondered about the work ethic of young people and how freshmen would work out.

“They were wonderful,” she said. “I’m just so proud of them. They worked really hard.”

She said she would recommend Cristo Rey students to other workplaces.

“Not only are they going to be an asset to their business, but the business is going to be an asset to the students,” she said. “Businesses should take the time to invest in the young students, the young kids, of this day. Give them experience. Give them a work ethic.”