The scene: junior year of high school, in August 2002 (time flies). Our protagonist (me) is working at Genuardi’s Family Markets, Saint David’s, PA. 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday.
My tools? An oversized apron, a Genuardi’s shirt, a dustpan, and a broom. Then, disinfectant spray and a lot of paper towels.
My assignment? To clean the tables and floor, as well as the bathrooms, of the eat-in section of the grocery store.
I was a CSA–Customer Service Associate–a euphemism for bag boy, cart returner, and cleaner-upper of spills in aisle 5. It was high school student grunt work. Other friends were caddies, waiters, busboys, or worked in their parents’ businesses.
But none of my high school friends worked for American Express or Pfizer. Had I attended Cristo Rey New York High School, that’s where I and my friends would have worked. The New Yorker recently published “Up Life’s Ladder Skill Set” on Cristo Rey High School’s “Business Boot Camp.” Like all schools in the Cristo Rey Network, Cristo Rey New York students work one day a week.
[T]hey work, mostly doing clerical tasks for multinational corporations (Pfizer, AmericanExpress, McKinsey). Chaperones meet the[m]… at the school, on East 106th Street, and accompany them downtown. Their salaries revert to the school, at least at first; some internships turn into summer jobs, at which point students get paid.
My training at Genuardi’s included a video on how to bag groceries, which was very important because I had not hitherto realized the negative consequences of laying laundry detergent on top of a loaf of bread. Cristo Rey students’ training includes personal mentoring with corporate officials in the art of answering phones and making copies, which can be intimidating for the uninitiated.
Daniela Fernandez, from the Lower East Side, raised her hand to her ear in the universal sign for a telephone. “Good morning. Cristo Rey speaking–uh-oh.”
“Try again,” [visiting HR Representative Darrell] Romero said.
“Good morning. Cristo Rey High School. This is Daniela speaking. How may I help you?”
“That’s perfect,” Romero said.
Both of our first jobs taught us humility and hard work. And you know what? I am a better man for bagging those groceries. Yet the first job for Cristo Rey students will form them as professional adults, pay their way through high school, land them internships, get them into college, and allow them to fulfill their potential. That’s a first job.