Juliana Espinoza was a bashful teenager until last summer when she began a year-long internship at Junior Achievement of Sacramento.
Arranged by administrators at Cristo Rey High School Sacramento, where she is a freshman, the clerical position she fills in the office and at Junior Achievement information booths at community events has evolved Espinoza into a self-assured young woman.
“We go to work, and they teach us about the real world and how to speak to people,” says Espinoza, 14. “I was shy at first, but no more. It’s helped me a lot. At Cristo Rey, they teach you to be really friendly. And if you have bad grades, they make you raise them — fast.”
Espinoza is making As and Bs, she says.
Cristo Rey is a private, college-preparatory Catholic high school in Sacramento’s south area. It has fewer than 300 students, all of whom participate in the school’s work-study program and come from families of limited economic means.
“How we fund their education is that every student works five days a month for a company that sponsors them,” says Program Manager Carmen Raggio. “That covers 60 percent of the cost of running the school. So we can offer them an education comparable to Christian Brothers or Jesuit (high schools) for less.”
The Sacramento campus, which opened in 2006, is one of 24 Cristo Rey secondary schools in the U.S. So far, every student who’s graduated from the Sacramento school has been accepted into college.
“It proves that this model works because of the amazing companies and organizations that sponsor the students and help motivate them,” Raggio says.
“We can offer them an education comparable to Christian Brothers or Jesuit (high schools) for less.”
Carmen Raggio, work/study program manager, Cristo Rey
Approximately 90 Sacramento businesses and nonprofits “hire” Cristo Rey students each school year. This is the first time Junior Achievement has participated.
“It’s been super fun,” says spokeswoman Julie Rooney. “And it’s great to have young people representing us because we are a youth-focused nonprofit. Plus, it helps us out with such a small staff, and Juliana is really creative and so talented.”
Junior Achievement also partners with Cristo Rey High by taking its Success Skills program to the campus each summer. All incoming freshmen are required to attend a four-week “boot camp” before the school year begins. The seven-session, success-skills component helps students develop interpersonal skills and apply them in the workplace with mock job interviews.
“The difference it makes is phenomenal,” says Raggio. “Its program connects the dots for them: Why you do the things you do? Why it’s important to be a successful person? And what it is like to go to work. What they learn now, they will be able to use later.”
Though just 14, Espinoza already has her sights set on medical school. She wants to be a doctor, perhaps specializing in pediatric medicine.
“I think I’m going to do great in my future,” she says.
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