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Cristo Rey offers work component to curriculum

Miquel Duffy wants a career as a corporate lawyer.

Nuyia Banales has her eyes set on immigration law.

Aside from their interest in the legal profession, they have something else in common: They’re both part of the incoming class of freshmen at Cristo Rey Columbus High School.

Cristo Rey, part of a national network of Catholic high schools throughout the country, is in the midst of interviewing students and faculty for the upcoming school year, which begins in August.

Jim Foley, president of the school, said Cristo Rey simultaneously trains students in an academic and professional office environment.

All undergrads must work a job five days a month. Four students work as a team, completing the duties of a full-time job employee.

The employer, meanwhile, pays the school $26,000 a year for the work, which goes directly toward each students’ tuition.

“We like to say our students are learning to work and working to learn,” Foley said. “It goes both ways.”

All students go through a rigorous application process that includes letters of recommendation from their current mathematics and English teachers and another adult in their lives. They’re also required to take a math test.

Cristo Rey is the first Catholic high school to open in Columbus since 1961, following Bishop Ready.

The school, which will start off with a $2-million annual budget, is working with such large employers as Mount Carmel West, Commerce National Bank, Grange Insurance and Kimball-West, among others.

Students are taught various skills necessary to assimilate into the corporate world, including basic computer literacy, and interpersonal skills, such as looking people in the eye and delivering a firm handshake, Foley said.

“They really do bring a level of enthusiasm to the workplace,” Principal Cathy Thomas said.

Cristo Rey Columbus, the 26th school in the national network, will remain at its current location, 840 W. State St. on the Near West Side, for the 2013-14 school year.

School officials are in negotiations to purchase the former Ohio Deaf School in downtown Columbus.

“That would put us right in the middle of the Discovery District,” Foley said.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library last week acquired the property for its expansion plans.

However, library officials have expressed interest in selling the building, said Gregg Dodd, marketing director for the library system.

The incoming freshman class will have 100 students. The school will then add a grade in each of the following three years.

Cristo Rey got its start 17 years ago in Chicago. Although it is a faith-based school, Cristo Rey is open to children of all faiths.

The school is open only to families of low and moderate incomes. The average Cristo Rey student is from a family of four with a household income of $34,000 a year.

“That’s our mission, to reach out to underserved communities throughout the United States,” Foley said.

Duffy, a 13-year-old who lives on the Northeast Side, is enrolled in the Columbus Collegiate Academy.

He said he wanted to join the ranks of Cristo Rey because it has a reputation for success in other cities.

“I think I’ll fit in,” he said.

Banales attends St. James the Less, a Catholic school on the North Side. She said she looks forward to the work component of the curriculum.

“I just thought this would be the right fit,” said Banales, who lives on the North Side.