Academic journal article Catholic Education

"Does Jesus Want Us to Be Poor?" Student Perspectives of the Religious Program at a Cristo Rey Network School

Academic journal article Catholic Education

"Does Jesus Want Us to Be Poor?" Student Perspectives of the Religious Program at a Cristo Rey Network School

Article excerpt

Recent studies of Catholic education have emphasized its positive influences on academic achievement (Altonji, Elder, & Taber, 2005; Morgan, 2001), especially for students from low-income backgrounds at the secondary level (Huchting, Martin, Chavez, Holyk-Casey, & Ruiz, 2014). One such example of Catholic high schools committed to improving the social mobility of low-income students is the Cristo Rey Network (CRN) schools. The CRN schools offer students a rigorous academic experience as well as the social skills via a corporate work-study program to prepare them for postsecondary and career success. Emerging research on Cristo Rey schools points to the power of a college-going culture and its positive impact on low-income Latino and African American students (Aldana, 2014). Furthermore, the CRN reports (according to National Student Clearinghouse) "for the graduating classes of 2008-2012, 90% of Cristo Rey graduates have enrolled in college and for the graduating classes of 2005-2007, 42% have graduated from college" (Cristo Rey Network, 2015a).

However, less is known about the ways that Catholic schools can influence social development, and even less so for historically underserved students. In a national study of Catholic schools, Bryk et al. (1993) found that "Catholic schools benefit from a network of social relations, characterized by trust, that constitute a form of social capital" (p. 314). They argued that the social structure of Catholic schools improves achievement by providing multiple opportunities for face-to-face interaction, the development of meaningful relationships between students, teachers, and other members of the school community, and a shared set of beliefs among all school members. Despite this body of research, few empirical studies consider how the religious program might impact the intrapersonal and interpersonal development of students. Catholic schools contribute to the development of strong relationships through an emphasis on religious activities and service. Students in Catholic schools must adopt prosocial behaviors and participate in social activities such as religious retreats, volunteerism, and school activities (Bryk et al., 1993; Irvine & Foster, 1996; Whitman, 2008). The CRN schools uniquely undertake the responsibility of preparing low-income youth academically, socially, and morally. Therefore, this article examines how the CRN influences the religious program of a Cristo Rey high school and how school staff integrates students' lived experiences into religious activities.

Review of the Literature

Catholic schools can adhere to the messages and teachings of Catholicism found in papal, conciliar, and Episcopal documents, which emphasize living a life in the likeness of Christ in the pursuit of a more just society. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) (1998):

   Catholic social teaching emerges from the truth of what God has
   revealed to us about himself. We believe in the triune God whose
   very nature is communal and social. God the Father sends his only
   Son Jesus Christ and shares the Holy Spirit as his gift of love.
   God reveals himself to us as one who is not alone, but rather as
   one who is relational, one who is Trinity. Therefore, we who are
   made in God's image share this communal, social nature. We are
   called to reach out and to build relationships of love and justice.
   (n.p).

In this manner, Catholic schools are expected to develop a community with their students, faculty, and parents to engage in the mission of social justice. For Catholic schools, the structure of community is an integral mechanism that asks Catholics to prioritize the community and relationships with others. In this manner, the Catholic Church and schools rooted in the Catholic tradition emphasize relationship building--in particular, with those in need.

In their analysis of Catholic schools, Cook and Simonds (2011) introduced a framework that utilizes relationships as the singular organizing principle. …

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