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KC-Area Companies ‘Draft’ Cristo Rey Students

Samantha Ballesteros Martinez thinks of Providence Medical Center as part of her family.

Martinez is in her second year in Cristo Rey Kansas City high school’s work-study program. On Aug. 19, Providence Medical Center CEO Randall Nyp and Husch Blackwell Chairman Maurice Watson visited Cristo Rey and signed students in a “draft” for the program.

“I was really shy in the beginning,” Martinez told Kansas City Hispanic News. “I’m really confident now. I’ve learned from it.”

Martinez works in Providence’s gift shop and marketing department, and she delivers flowers to patients. Her first language is Spanish, so she also translates for patients who don’t speak little or no English.

“When they call me to talk to patients, I say my name and I say that I’m bilingual,” she said. “They ask for Samantha.”

In all, 115 local companies ask for Cristo Rey’s 400 students, all of whom take part in the work-study program. The companies contract with the school for teams of students to fill entry-level jobs, which pay $6,500 a year – about half the cost of tuition.

Incoming freshmen attend a three-week summer training program to prepare for their jobs. Returning students take refresher courses to reinforce skills in workplace etiquette, communications and time management.

All Cristo Rey graduates since 2010 have been accepted to colleges or universities.

“The students have just been fantastic,” Nyp said. “They come prepared. We get a lot of work out of them, and they learn a lot.”

Jahleel Allen, a senior at Cristo Rey, works at Husch Blackwell. He files records and helps lawyers with evidence.

“It’s really good experience,” he told Hispanic News. “I learn about work ethic and respect in the workplace and proper attire. They understand that this is my first work assignment, and they help me when I need help.”

His mother is a lawyer, and he worked for her at her firm during the summer.

“I thought about law, and I’m still thinking about it,” he said.

His tips for incoming students: “Lots of handshakes. Lots of smiles. Stay open and talk to everybody.”

Cordell Parham, a freshman at Cristo Rey, said he had dreamed of becoming a lawyer since he was a child.

“To be in a program and see that happen to me makes me very grateful to be in this program,” he said.

Kathleen Hanlon, Cristo Rey Kansas City’s president, called the school’s program “a mission.”

“It’s very exciting to see them come when they’re shy in their ninth-grade year and only begin to explore and be apprehensive about going to work and even fearful,” Hanlon said. “Some kids come alone from their former neighborhoods and schools. It’s a powerful experience. It’s transforming for the students and the staff and faculty.”

The school’s students are in the high-economic-need category and lack a lot of resources, she said.

“They don’t have models in their neighborhoods, or even in their families,” Hanlon said. “They’re often the first (in their families) to graduate from college. I had several brothers who said ‘You go to school. You think you’re better than us.’”

The work-study program enables the students “to see what they can do,” she said.

“They have to navigate,” Hanlon said. “They learn to accept that there isn’t a whole lot of difference (among themselves and their peers). They go through four years of this kind of shifting and adapting to different jobs and different populations, and I think those skills make them more people-capable.

“They know how to socialize,” she said. “They know how to observe and how to behave, and they’ve been with adults. So going away to school is no big deal. They’ve lived through those anxieties. They go and they take it seriously.”