Last year I heard about two Johnnies who work at a school with a unique approach to education among inner city youth. The school is Cristo Rey Jesuit High School-Twin Cities, and it's located in the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis. The alumni are Bob Elfstrand ’84, who is the Director of Development, and Jeb Myers ’97, who has been the school’s president since 2014.
I contacted Bob and asked if he could set up a tour. Bob gave me the full tour, which included a stop in the gymnasium, where one of the four basketball courts is painted Johnnie Red and "Saint John’s" is emblazoned on one wall. I was very impressed with the facility and its community-based approach to education. I also learned that Cristo Rey-Twin Cities is one of a network of Cristo Rey schools throughout the country working off the same model, and that Saint John's is one of 23 national University Partners with Cristo Rey.
The Cristo Rey model was developed in 1995, and its first campus opened in Chicago in 1996. Today the network has 32 schools and serves over 10,000 students in 21 states and Washington D.C. Cristo Rey schools offer a unique approach to urban education, and they seek to provide students from economically disadvantaged families with the knowledge, character and skills that can transform lives. They have their roots in the Jesuit and Catholic tradition, and they serve as career and college preparatory schools.
The Cristo Rey network has formulated a rigorous, standards-based curriculum and a unique corporate work-study program. Students fund over half of the cost of their education by working five full days a month in local businesses and organizations that have set up a working agreement with the school. Areas of focus include accounting, information technology, human resources, office services, finance, and business development.
Cristo Rey –Twin Cities opened in 2007, and in June 2011 the first graduating class of 61 students received high school diplomas. 100% of that class was accepted into college or the military, and one of those graduates was Jeffrey Weinhagen, who went on to Saint John’s and graduated in 2015. On the tour, Bob showed me a picture of Jeffery interacting with students, and he noted that Jeffrey continues to visit campus and is a role model for the current students.
Saint John’s has enrolled 45 students from Cristo Rey schools around the country since 2011. The vast majority of these students are first generation college students from families with limited means. Like 95% of our current students, the Cristo Rey students at Saint John's rely on financial aid to make a college education affordable.
Along with the commitment to Cristo Rey, Saint John’s has been committed to supporting first generation students since its founding in 1857. Through the generosity of donors, Saint John’s has now established the First Generation Endowed Scholarship program. These are awarded to students showing financial need and are the first in their immediate family to attend college. Currently, 17 students are receiving a First Generation Endowed Scholarship, but over time, as donors step up with additional support, the goal is to significantly grow the fund.
Each of these students greatly appreciates the First Generation Scholarship and knows he would not be at Saint John’s without it. It will change his life, even as he enriches the community at Saint John's. That's the goal for Cristo Rey and FirstGen at Saint John's. With your help we can continue, one person at a time.
[Editor's note: To establish your own FirstGen scholarship, or to contribute to an existing fund, contact any of the development officers by clicking "Contact Us" below.]