Jack Crowe is a columnist for the Wednesday Journal, AWN’s sister publication in Oak Park. He asked that we publish his most recent column in the Austin Weekly News and welcomes responses.
My son has it made as an Oak Park and River Forest High School freshman. He was invited into a number of honors courses. After a grueling twice-a-day tryout schedule, he made the freshman soccer team.
Perfect for us. With no time left for anything but rigorous classes, homework and sports, he should be one tired puppy, too tired to get into much trouble. Plus, over the next four years, he will learn from a great faculty, interact with bright kids and be well-prepared for college.
Across the border from Oak Park in Austin, things are not so bright. For starters, there is no established public high school for students to attend.
The Chicago Public Schools closed Austin High. It was a failed school, well beyond fixing. But now, except for two new startup charter schools in the old building, thousands of high school-age kids in Austin must travel long distances across the city to attend high school.
Things look just as bleak at many of those public schools. Recent reports show that only six percent of freshmen in the Chicago Public School system can expect to finish college, including an embarrassingly minuscule three percent of the boys.
What to do and why should people in Oak Park and River Forest care?
We Oak Parkers know how to generate a lot of heat. So why don’t we affluent well-educated people in Oak Park and River Forest get agitated and do more about the education crisis-and it is a crisis-in Austin?
Maybe the problem is too big to get our hands around. Maybe we are so busy with work and school issues of our own that we are too tired to think about it. For many of us, crossing the color line between Oak Park and Austin is too far to travel.
But there are some new starts in Austin that have the potential to make a big difference over time, and you might be surprised at who is setting down roots there.
You already know about St. Ignatius and Loyola Academy, two Jesuit high schools that are the crème de la crème in the Chicago area. You may be less familiar with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School .
The Jesuits started Cristo Rey in Pilsen in 1996 to take the poorest immigrant kids in Chicago and turn them into college material. Ten years later, Cristo Rey has 500 students, most all of whom will go to college. Better yet, a corporate internship program, where four students share one full-time entry-level job at local companies, allows students to pay their own tuition. Students who work at hospitals want to become health care workers. Those who work at law firms want to become-gulp-lawyers.
The Cristo Rey model has been so successful that 12 Cristo Rey schools are now open across the country, including in New York, Boston, and L.A., with more on the way. The Gates Foundation has donated $20 million to help replicate the model.
Now the Jesuits have decided to open a new Jesuit college prep high school in Austin in September of 2008. It will be called Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory. That’s right. A new Jesuit college prep education available to kids in Austin who will pay for their own tuition and then go on to college.