Two long-awaited high schools are opening this week in Baton Rouge, offering different pathways to college and the working world.
Opening Monday is Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, the newest member of a Chicago-based network of 32 Catholic schools in 21 states and the network’s first in Louisiana.
Supporters have been working for more than two years to bring Cristo Rey to Baton Rouge. Its inaugural class of 78 ninth-graders will not only learn in the classroom, but starting Monday, they also will go to work. At least one full day each week, they will work at a white-collar job in town. In exchange, 17 Baton Rouge employers have agreed to underwrite part of their tuition.
On Wednesday, students return to Lee High School historic home in the Southdowns subdivision after spending three years in a temporary location. They return to a new $54.7 million building and a new academic program. About 850 students in grades nine to 12 are expected to show up, nearly twice the number who enrolled last year; the public school eventually will grow to about 1,200 students.
A cross between a community college and a Silicon Valley startup, Lee High’s new campus has a commons building and three academies, focusing on digital media, engineering and biomedicine. Students will have the chance to amass a variety of college credits, ranging from mainstays like math and English to rare courses like cell genetics.
Cristo Rey students first arrived July 12 for a three-week orientation to get ready not just for school but their new workplaces.
Roderick Adams said her daughter Rakia, 14, learned about work ethic and conduct. For instance, she spent one session learning just about proper phone etiquette.
“You can’t just send a text message like you do with your friends,” Adams said. “You’ve got to be professional.”
On Friday morning, they returned dressed in blue plaid Catholic school uniforms. They sat in the pews next door at St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church to celebrate Mass and officially dedicate their new school.
“What a fantastic opportunity. You have a great privilege,” said an ebullient Bishop Robert Muench, who presided over the Mass. “You have a lot of people pulling for you.”
“If this sounds like a pep talk, that’s what I had in mind,” Muench continued. “I want you be fired up! Not fired.”
Yes, students at Cristo Rey can get fired. If that happens, they get second chances with a different employer. Students terminated twice, however, not only lose their job, they are expelled from the school.
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