New school combines work, faith, academics

By Ret Boney

NEW BERN, N.C. – One day a week, every student at Christ the King Catholic High School dons business attire and heads out into the workforce for a full eight hours in the corporate world.

All work in entry-level positions at local businesses like Altrius Capital Management, Neuse Realty and Animal Care Center.

The $250 they earn each month for their 32 hours of work goes to supplement their tuition costs at the New Bern school, which opened its doors in August of 2006 with 20 students in grades nine and 10.

“They are in entry positions learning more than they are contributing,” says Bruce Young, executive director of the school.  “It exposes them to the world of work, employer expectations and they learn some skills.”

The school is built on three pillars, he says, starting with a rigorous college-prep academic program.

Students are in school four days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Young says that while the school is not part of any parish or diocese, its academic standards are more rigorous than the local or state diocese.

The second pillar is a Catholic faith-based education, which includes a mandatory four years of theology, taught to provide information rather than conversion, Young says.

Students of any faith, or no faith, are eligible to attend, and currently, one in three are not Catholic.

But it’s the school’s Corporate Study Initiative that sets it apart.

The idea comes from the Jesuits, who use a similar process in their inner-city schools serving mainly poor Hispanic families, Young says.

At Christ the King, the school’s 12 corporate partners pay a monthly $250 fee per student, with the funds going to the general fund to supplement tuition of $3,500 a year.

In exchange, each student spends one workday each week at a sponsoring business for a full school year, switching to a different employer each year of high school.

“So over four years, a student gets four types of exposures,” says Young.  “This program is an extension of the curriculum.”

Altrius puts its four students to work on several different sorts of tasks, including data entry and filing, says Jeb Collier, chief innovation officer for the New Bern investment firm.

The students learn the basics of the work world, like dressing appropriately, arriving on time and working a full day, but the company benefits too.

“We feel like we’re doing them a service by introducing them to the corporate world,” says Collier.  “The biggest thing we get out of it is working with the kids.  They bring a lot of energy to the office.”

With the addition of 11th grade this year and 12th the next, Young is currently recruiting new corporate partners and estimates he’ll need a total of about 25 by August for an estimated enrollment of 50 students this coming fall in grades nine, ten and eleven.

The combination of education and job placement is a natural fit for Young, a retired vice president of human resources and adjunct university professor.

He began working with the school as a volunteer recruiting business partners, but put aside retirement to assume the helm in June of 2006.

With what he calls a successful first semester behind him, Young now is focused on building enrollment, recruiting businesses and raising money.

Tuition and contributions from partner companies cover barely half the school’s operating expenses, estimated at between $10,000 and $11,000 per student, he says.

Fundraising efforts need to bring in an additional $300,000 to $400,000 a year to bridge the gap.

“It’s a never-ending process,” he says.  “Recruiting students, finding Corporate Study Initiative partners, and raising money.”

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