Chicagoland

Cristo Rey St. Martin High School converts Kmart into state-of-the-art space

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
February 21, 2018

Cristo Rey St. Martin High School converts Kmart into state-of-the-art space

A student walks to the front door of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep's new location in Waukegan on Feb. 13, 2018. It was the first day of classes in a repurposed former Kmart store. The renovated 53,000 square-foot building feature 18 classrooms, three science laboratories, administrative offices, a cafeteria and a library commons area. The school is part of the Chicago-based Cristo Rey Network that serves low-income communities around the country. Students participate in a work-study program at area corporations during school hours gaining valuable experience and earning part of their tuition.
A student walks to the front door of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep's new location in Waukegan on Feb. 13. It was the first day of classes in a repurposed former Kmart store. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student smiles as he watches a monitor during an assembly at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep's new location in Waukegan on Feb. 13. It was the first day of classes in a repurposed former Kmart store. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students, teachers and staff watch monitors during an assembly on the first day of class in their new school building. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students react to information displayed on monitors during the assembly. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
President Preston Kendall addresses students during an assembly on Feb. 13. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students watch monitors and clap during the morning assembly. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
President Preston Kendall addresses the students during the assembly. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students listen during an assembly in the new school. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, speaks with Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas in one of the school's common areas. Bishop Rassas founded the school in 2004. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students put their bags in their new lockers. The building is painted inside and outside in the school colors of green and blue. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Teacher Stefanie Goy gives out locker combinations to students. (Karen Callway/Chicago Catholic)
Students make their way to the new classrooms. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Oswaldo Bahena high-fives teacher Elizabeth Partenach as Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan began classes at its new location. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student examines her new ID card. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Theology teacher John Dragicevich holds up his ID card during class. (Karen Callway/Chicago Catholic)
Students listen to a teacher during class. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student examines his ID card before class begins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The repurposed Kmart store is painted in the school's colors. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

The 400 students of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan used to squeeze themselves into a school built 100 years ago for 200 elementary-age  students. While the high school had mobile units, it was still a tight fit. 

On Feb. 13, the school moved into a newly renovated former Kmart store that offers much more space, large skylights and windows and state-of-the-art equipment. 

With the exterior painted bright blue and green, the school stands out along a commercial strip of Belvidere Road, where it is surrounded by stores and fast-food restaurants. The interior features the same bright colors and large skylights. 

“The new space is really big. I like it. It is better than what we had,” said freshman Manny Amaya. “I feel like it is more space for us to learn.”
Cristo Rey St. Martin was previously housed in the former St. Joseph School in Waukegan. The school was founded in 2004 under then-Father George Rassas, who was made an auxiliary bishop in 2006, and was the first Catholic high school to open in Lake County in 50 years. It has grown from 95 students the first year to 400 today. 

Cristo Rey St. Martin, is part of the Chicago-based national Cristo Rey Network established by Jesuit Father John Foley in 1995. Under the unique model, students receive a college-preparatory education and spend five, 8-hour days a month working at local corporations such as Abbot Laboratory and Wintrust Bank, gaining valuable work experience and earning about 60 percent of their tuition. Corporations sponsor students by paying $32,500 for an entry-level position staffed by four students. 

Financing for the new school building at 3106 Belvidere Road came through an $18.5 million capital campaign. Plans are in place to add a gym, chapel and fine arts facilities. 

The school only serves families with limited financial resources. The average family income is $38,277, with an average of four people in the family. Last year, 98 percent of students were accepted into college. In their area of Waukegan, less than half of the students who start high school finish. Even fewer go on to college. 

“In our society, young people who come from communities that don’t have a lot of economic wherewithal are thought less of. Society kind of tells them that they don’t have value,” said Cristo Rey St. Martin president Preston Kendall. “What we’re really about is convincing them that they do have value and letting them prove it to themselves.”

Cristo Rey St. Martin tries to level the playing field for them.

“We’re here to take money out of the equation. These kids are talented. They are our next doctors, our next engineers, our next teachers,” Kendall said. “They don’t know it yet and they are discovering it here.”

Kevin Glabowicz graduated from Waukegan High School in 2010 and now teaches history at Cristo Rey St. Martin. 

“Being from the community, this building is so important to us because we get the opportunity to show a positive light. Too often in the Waukegan community it’s so much negative press and the negative view of the community, that to have this space and to show off these kids who are doing outstanding things is a great opportunity for us,” Glabowicz said.

For more information about the school, visit www.cristoreystmartin.org.

Topics:

  • catholic schools
  • cristo rey network

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