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Fr. Parkes looks to broader horizons for Cristo Rey

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Fr. Joseph Parkes

By Irish Echo Staff

The Irish American president of Cristo Rey High School in Manhattan is looking east for the opportunity to export its groundbreaking network of high-achieving schools serving economically disadvantaged children.

But Fr. Joseph Parkes, son of Irish immigrants from counties Cavan and Fermanagh, says his next port of call will be Hong Kong rather than Ireland or Britain — despite the fact that he has visited both countries to share the success of the Cristo Rey model with educationalists.

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At the thirty Cristo Rey schools across the U.S., children, usually hailing from low-income immigrant homes where English is not the first language, work for a company outside of school one day a week.

Corporations that have participated in the school/work scheme include Pfizer, American Express, JP Morgan and McKinsey.

“That’s the secret sauce,” Fr. Parkes told the Irish Echo this week.

“It gives them confidence, introduces them to another world and makes them hungry for success,” he said of his students.

As president of Cristo Rey in New York and a member of the national board, Fr. Parkes devotes much of his time to making the high-level contacts with Fortune 500 companies who will open their doors to Cristo Rey pupils — and pay the school for the privilege.

He also has a firm focus on fundraising. The Cristo Rey School in East Harlem alone has running costs of just over $5 million.

But ultimately, his primary concern is to ensure that Cristo Rey pupils graduate with a firm college place offer.

And in that endeavor, the college’s graduation rates speak for itself.

One hundred percent of seniors at Cristo Rey New York earned college acceptances.
“I have had the good fortune to be invited to Belfast and to Liverpool, England, to view the education system and explain the Cristo Rey approach,” says Fr. Parkes.

“But there has been no attempt to date to replicate the Cristo Rey model there.

“However, I’ve been invited to Hong Kong in November and, despite what you might think, there’s a lot of poverty there. It seems to me to be fertile ground for the Cristo Rey approach. I really think it’s time for us to go international."