Taking the No. 6 train downtown Friday morning, Kelman Ramirez looks like any New York office drone. He’s got the red paisley tie, the black lace-up shoes, the worn building pass lodged in his wallet. When he arrives at the Capital Group in Rockefeller Center, he gives his receptionist the usual polite hello. Ho-hum. But here’s the twist: Mr. Ramirez is only 17 years old.
He attends Cristo Rey New York, a small Catholic school in East Harlem where students pay their tuition by working as corporate serfs. Dressed in jackets, ties and little black suits, the students, some as young as 14, fan across the city to the cubicles and board rooms of companies such as McKinsey, Deloitte and Morgan Stanley, where they shred documents, file trade confirmations and reconcile expense reports. Their earnings, billed at roughly $19 an hour, fund nearly half the school’s budget.
At Cristo Rey, it’s all business–the place is even decorated to look like an office. The Rev. Joseph Parkes, the school’s president (“Like the CEO!” he says) gave me a tour last week. It’s the cleanest, sparest school you’ve ever seen. There are beige walls, framed art prints and slate-blue carpets. The classrooms look like corporate training rooms, with smartboards and long gray tables. There are no bells, says Father Parkes, because there are “no bells in the corporate environment.”