New education model puts students into Baton Rouge offices

    On the first Friday of the New Year, Jadarion Davis returned to work at Taylor Porter’s downtown Baton Rouge office following his holiday break.

    As Business Report details in a new feature from the current issue, Davis bounced between the eighth, ninth and 10th floors of the Chase North Tower on Laurel Street, performing his daily tasks of delivering mail and running errands for the firm’s roughly 70 lawyers and dozens of other staffers. Eventually, Davis made his way to a crowded copy room where his supervisor, Darryl Owens, was working near a list of tasks for Davis that is taped to the wall.

    “I was a little concerned at first,” Owens says of Davis, with a slight smile. “But it’s turned out very well.”

    Davis is just 15 years old, and Owens’ initial skepticism of supervising such a young employee dissolved soon after Davis started. Davis runs mail, delivers checks and prepares the firm’s 10 conference rooms for meetings—making sure they are stocked with a specific number of soft drinks and water—as part of his work-study program through Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School.

    The Chicago-based network of 32 private Catholic schools expanded to the Capital City last year, moving into the empty Redemptorist High School building in north Baton Rouge. Its college preparatory program is aimed at low-to-moderate income students and boasts a rigorous academic load.

    But the Cristo Rey model also includes a unique twist: Each student spends one full day of their week working at a local white-collar office to supplement part of their tuition and pick up some real world career training. The school has thus far partnered with 16 businesses in Baton Rouge, ranging from a local hospital and YMCA branch to law firms such as Taylor Porter, where Davis travels to via a school bus each week for a six-and-a-half hour shift.

    Local business leaders who have long dealt with the ever-growing skilled workforce shortage in the Baton Rouge area are lauding the Cristo Rey model as a way to train an underserved population on how to function in an office environment.

    Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, says he frequently hears business owners lament the lack of eligible workers.

    “When I talk to employers, it doesn’t matter what industry they’re in—big or small—they say the same things: If we can get someone who can read and write, who can stay off drugs and who has soft skills, we have a job for them,” Waguespack says. “Cristo Rey has a unique curriculum model that focuses on those four skill sets.”

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