Brother Steven Vasoli teaches history and dispenses justice in his dual roles as an instructor and dean of students at San Miguel High School. The southside institution is unique in that it allows students to pay about 65 percent of their tuition by working in a corporate-internship program. Low-income students who might not be able to afford it otherwise get a good-quality Catholic education administered by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, a teaching order founded more than three centuries ago by St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. For more information, visit the school's Web site.
Tell me a bit about the school.
The reason for founding the school here was to give families--from the southside of Tucson, especially--the opportunity to provide a Catholic education for their sons and daughters, for families that don't normally have the choice of Catholic education because of its expense. Keeping that in mind--that we wanted to serve families that don't normally have the choice for Catholic education because of its expense--we adopted a national program called the Cristo Rey model. The Cristo Rey model is a program that involves corporate internships, where we partner with local businesses, and in this case, also the University of Arizona, and our students actually work as employees to pay ... their tuition costs.
How much is tuition?
Tuition is somewhere in the $7,000 range, but with the corporate-internship program, it reduces it to about $2,600 for a family, which includes books. And from that amount, because of the CTSO program--the state of Arizona Catholic Tuition Assistance Program--many of our families pay significantly less than that.
How does the Cristo Rey Network function?
It's a support organization; it's schools that have this work-study model, and so by functioning as an organization, it helps us financially. That's one area. But because this program is so unique, it's kind of this collective wisdom about how to operate these programs, how to market your school (and) problem-solving. It's a very complicated way to run a school, too.
Well, for example, in a traditional school, students go to school five days a week. Here, they go to school four days a week, because they work one day. And actually one week per month, they work an extra day, and so they only go three days. Students have to study as a group; they have to study as a group so while they're working, they're not missing instruction time. So it's kind of complicated.
What do the students do on their jobs?
The system is this: Four students fill one entry-level job. Many of them would do what we would call entry-level clerical work. As an example, in one of the hospitals, they actually work in the supply department, and they go around doing supplies of medical equipment to different floors. They do filing and phone answering. At the University of Arizona, they work with some research scientists.
Oh, really? What kind of research?
One is doing bee research--slicing bee brains. (Laughs.) The other one is working with some genetic research.
What do the students tell you they get from this program?
The students start out in August with a two-week orientation seminar on how to do some of the basic skills and all that. They get real-life job experience, and I think that's the major one. They begin to move with professional people, with whom they've never moved before. They learn how offices work, and they meet people who have college degrees.
Do you think this kind of vocational education is something that's lacking today in schools? Is it something that could be replicated elsewhere?
I must say that its primary reason is to help students finance their educations, and so, in a sense, our students are working their way through school. But on a secondary level, it helps our students envision themselves in the work world, in the professional world, and with the idea of going to college. For a lot of our families, our students will be the first in their families to go to college.
What drew you to the order?
Gosh, that was many years ago: love of teaching and religious life itself; living in community with other people.
What do you call the collar you're wearing?
This is called a rabat. We dress pretty much like our founder dressed over 300 years ago, so it keeps us in touch with him.