Human Interest Stories

Cristo Rey & Acme Corrugated Box: Empowering Philadelphia Youth

Since 2014, Acme Corrugated Box Co. has participated in an innovative high school work-study program designed to prepare students for life and careers.

Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School is “the school that works” – literally. A college preparatory school with a unique operating model, Cristo Rey students spend one day a week in work-study roles at premier businesses and non-profits across greater Philadelphia, including Acme Corrugated Box Co., Inc.

“It’s a rather unusual model that makes for a remarkable melting pot of ideas and mentorship,” explains Joanna Wusinich, Esq., Vice President of Strategic Growth and the Work-Study Program at Cristo Rey Philadelphia. “Acme Corrugated Box is one of our 95+ work-study Job Partners, and an incredible one.”

Accessible private school education – with a twist

A college preparatory Catholic school for students of all faiths, Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School is one of nearly 40 Cristo Rey schools nationwide offering private school education to low-income families via tuition subsidized by wages earned in work-study. The model has proven greater than the sum of its parts.

“The original vision was a college preparatory school for students whose families could not afford it,” Wusinich says. “However, the more magical result is the skills and relationships that students develop over the course of their high school years by going to a real job with real work and real performance expectations.”

Acme Corrugated Box has been a Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School Job Partner since 2014, hiring four students each academic year. The relationship flows from Acme Corrugated Box Co., Inc. President Bob Cohen’s deeply-held belief in equal access to education for students across socioeconomic realities. Cohen serves on Cristo Rey Philadelphia’s Board of Trustees.

“Academic excellence should be made available to all students, even those who, through no fault of their own, have been disadvantaged by circumstances. These students demonstrate the will and the staying power to realize a first-class education. Cristo Rey combines rigorous academic study with real life work experiences for their students. It is an honor to host these young people who are looking for the pathway to a productive life.”
– Bob Cohen, President of Acme Corrugated Box Co., Inc.

One day a week, Cristo Rey Philadelphia students work from 9am to 3pm in an Acme Corrugated Box department chosen by Acme’s human resources team, based on the students’ expressed interests. Transportation to and from work is provided by Cristo Rey. The experience offers a taste of professional life in terms of skills as well as professionalism. Students fill out time sheets each day they work, for example. If they call out sick, the day must be made up on their own time.

Outcomes speak for themselves

“Students love working at Acme, mostly because when they walk through the doors they don’t feel like ‘kids;’ they feel like colleagues and are treated like young professionals that belong on the team,” Wusinich says. “Bob Cohen and Acme Corrugated Box Human Resources Manager Heidi Morrison have developed the program over the years to ensure that students are learning real skills, building networks, and able to explore different career paths. They have high expectations for our students and our students like that.”

Cristo Rey alumni Chris Pham worked at Acme Corrugated Box for two years while in high school at Cristo Rey. He graduated from Temple University last May with a business marketing focus. Chris says, “Working at Acme Corrugated Box opened new horizons for me. I was able to get hands-on work experience, allowing myself to discover what I really wanted to do as a professional career. Building a network of various coworkers also gave me the upper hand to ask for career advice and future internships during college.”

Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School graduate Ayana Paul worked for Acme Corrugated Box during the 2019-2020 school year. When COVID forced her to switch to a remote work model, she realized the value of her Acme team’s support and care. “One of the things I really missed during the pandemic was walking into their warm smiles and friendly greetings when I arrived in the morning,” Ayana says. Still, the experience proved invaluable. “The highlight of my work experience at Acme was being able to connect with my supervisor and the other workers in the department,” Ayana says. Aside from feeling welcomed I also learned a lot of things such as using [programs] Amtech and DocLink. I also got comfortable using Excel. I learned how to input credit memos into the system as well as invoice numbers into the Excel spreadsheet.”

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