Basilian plan for school for low-income students draws fire

By 
  • February 23, 2011
TORONTO - A new private Catholic high school that wants to open its doors to youth from low-income families in Toronto is taking flack from critics who argue the plan would “economically segregate” students.    

David Livingstone, director of the University of Toronto OISE Centre for the Study of Education and Work, has concerns about the proposed model for the 500-student Toronto Cristo Rey School, which will be run by the Basilian order. The project is “well-intentioned but ill-informed,” said Livingstone, author of How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. He said research since the 1960s has found that mixing low-income and high-income students together suggests “low-income students are going to gain and high-income students are not going to lose.”

But Basilian Father Joseph Redican, who is spearheading the project, says the school will be “inclusive” and provide opportunities for students, including those who could be the first in their family to attend university or college.

“We already have serious informal segregation. Schools in poorer areas tend to accommodate poorer kids. If anything, this will get them out of those tighter communities and get them more involved in the entire city,” he told The Catholic Register.

The proposed Cristo Rey School for students from lower-income neighbourhoods is based upon the model of a school Redican ran in Detroit which provides American college preparatory education to youth who can’t afford private school education. The Detroit school is part of the 24-school Cristo Rey Network run by the Basilians in the United States.

Cristo Rey students participate in a work-study program where they work one day a week to pay their tuition while having longer school days during a four-day school week.

Livingstone cautioned that Cristo Rey students could face issues in re-integrating into a more diverse group after high school.

“The low-income school (students) will have to come back into the mainstream to engage and compete with kids who’ve had experience in higher-income schools,” he said. Isolating them for a period of time doesn’t create “a very easy road for relationship.”

The same goes for public school models like the Niagara District School Board’s recent plan for a separate school for students from lower-income families. Livingstone said there wouldn’t be enough resources to ensure this separate school would be at the same standard as the other public schools. The more effective way is to integrate students from different income backgrounds together, he said.

Redican, who is president of St. Michael’s College High School, a private Catholic boys’ school in Toronto, said a number of schools like St. Michael’s are already offering financial assistance to students who can’t afford the tuition.

He said 45 students are receiving full financial assistance, but added that there’s a limit to the number of students who can benefit from this program.

With the proposed school, Redican said “good, quality, Catholic independent education” can be open to a much larger group of students. It would be open to Catholic and non-Catholic students.

The selection criteria will be based upon economic need, the ability to do a university preparation program and possibly an entrance exam, which is standard for private schools.

Redican said the plan in Toronto would be to lease a building near the subway line and have the school ready by 2012.

“It’s open to everybody in the city who would qualify,” he said, adding the school will be “paying close attention” to the 13 priority areas identified by the city which face “considerable poverty and social challenges.”

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