Meet the 15-Year-Old Project Manager at Cisco Systems

Filed under Education

Kelly Amis and Agatha Bacelar

San José is an anchor of Silicon Valley, the innovation center of the world, where workers come from near and far to launch companies and careers. But across town lies a different San José, one where few students dare to dream of college, much less a burgeoning professional career. Most residents here are immigrants or first-generation Americans; they have limited resources and few professional role models. The offices of renowned companies like HP and Cisco Systems just a few miles down the road may as well be a world away.

But today an innovative new school is working to bridge the gap. Cristo Rey San José Jesuit High School, the most recent addition to Cristo Rey’s acclaimed national network of private schools, serves exclusively low-income students, allowing them to earn a portion of their tuition through a Corporate Work-Study Program. What began as a creative financial solution has become a new model for education—one that is equipping students with the skills they need for successful careers.

Students in the program work in teams of four, with each student working one day a week, to fill a single full-time position at a local business. In the process, they learn the abstract and technical skills needed to succeed in a professional work environment, while gaining access to mentors and work experiences that enlarge their worldview.

Back in the classroom, students complete a full college-preparatory course load on a schedule that’s designed around their work obligations. The result is an education unlike any other. At work, students have the chance to see the concepts they’ve learned in class applied to real-life scenarios. When they return to school, they bring technical skills, maturity, and confidence with them. Nationally, 100% of seniors graduating from Cristo Rey schools in 2014 were admitted to college, and 90% enrolled.

“Our students have such an amazing desire to have a strong future,” says Joe Albers, the school’s principal. “It’s our role as a society to provide opportunities for students to fulfill that potential."

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