Spotlight On: Cristo Rey

Cristo Rey St. Martin
College Prep

On a recent visit to Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, in Waukegan, we toured the school and heard how its faculty and staff are providing their students with the education and skills needed to successfully get “to and through” a four-year college or university degree program.

The school, which moved to its new location in a repurposed K-Mart building last spring, is bright and bold (especially the Gorter Family Foundation-dedicated science labs). But it is what is going on within the walls at Cristo Rey that is truly remarkable.

Cristo Rey is a college preparatory high school that serves more than four hundred low-income students from Lake County’s Waukegan and North Chicago communities. Cristo Rey students do not take an entrance exam for acceptance, but they do need to be capable and committed to getting “to and through” as well as meet the limited income requirement (household income is 75 percent less than the national medium income).

Despite the socio-economic challenges that the students and their families face, Cristo Rey’s high schoolers are thriving. Its graduates are completing bachelor’s degrees at more than three times the rate of high school graduates from low-income families (16 percent nationwide and 10 percent locally). Cristo Rey’s goal, which is within reach, is for 70 percent of its high school graduates to obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

Since its inception in 2004, Cristo Rey has become one of the top high schools in Lake County. It has also been named “One of America’s Most Challenging High Schools” by The Washington Post for six straight years. A main driver of this success is Cristo Rey’s unique model. In addition to a rigorous academic course load, students at Cristo Rey are required to work five, eight-hour days per month at one of its corporate work study program business partners (the business partners then pay the salary to Cristo Rey to off-set tuition costs). This helps Cristo Rey students learn about and further their interests in different career paths as well as gain and strengthen skills that are necessary to succeed in both the workforce and life.

The energy and enthusiasm at Cristo Rey are palpable. The students walk through their day with purpose, definition and drive. It is evident that Cristo Rey students will finish high school college-ready. It is also encouraging because many of the students will venture off to further their education and then they will return workforce-ready to support their families and ultimately strengthen their community.

Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep Success Story:

2018 Cristo Rey graduate, Rafael Aguilera, recently became a member of the Santa Clara University, California, class of 2022. He was awarded a scholarship and entered the university’s pre-pharmacy program. While a student at Cristo Rey, Rafael participated in Rosalind Franklin University’s INSPIRE program, a summer mentoring and applied research initiative for local, highly-motivated Latino high school students; volunteered at Beacon Place, helping second graders with their math homework; and sat on Nicasa’s Teen Court jury, a restorative justice alternative to the traditional system for first time youth offenders. All three of these organizations are also GFF grantees. While at Cristo Rey, Rafael’s professional work experiences included Grainger, Barilla and Hospira.
Cristo Rey By the Numbers: 
90 Students in the 2018 Graduating ClassIn 2018, College Scholarship  Awards Totaled more than $42 Million97% Acceptance Rate to Four-Year Bachelor’s Programs in 2018More than 75 Work Study Program Business Partners58% of Alumni are Earning a Four-Year Bachelor’s Degree