11/07/2013 04:27 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

College Readiness, the Cristo Rey Way

I have long said there is no such thing as a new education trend and a trip this week to Detroit Cristo Rey High School proved my point. From curriculum to college planning to real-life experience, the Cristo Rey education communities are setting more trends in education than Education Week can cover in a month. Even better, none of this has to do with being in vogue with what's "in" with education leaders. Cristo Rey is engaging in a curriculum because it works for kids.

This was evident from the minute I set foot in the school. Cristo Rey's college adviser Micaela Flores told me there are 26 Cristo Rey schools in the US, all based on the same educational model. After my morning there, my sense is that each institution has the flexibility to meet the needs of their unique local population while still staying true to the common elements -- or one could say, the common core -- that has been the heart of the Cristo Rey schools since their inception in 1995.

It's also clear the Cristo Rey model is all about college readiness. Micaela invited me to speak to the two sections of the college readiness course that is part of every Cristo Rey school. Scheduled just like an academic, this class gives students time during the school day to become college ready, with discussions about kinds of colleges, paying for college and the topic I discussed with them, writing college essays. College isn't something Cristo Rey students prepare for late at night -- it's a front and center part of their school day, every day.

And Cristo Ray students are more than ready to make the most of college, because they're making the most out of high school. I asked one class what advice they would give to ninth graders interested in college, and one student said "time management." Since it's unusual for a senior to respond that way, I asked him what he meant. "It means knowing you sometimes need to decide to study on a Saturday night to be ready for school, instead of being with your friends."

This was a high school senior.

The value of college is instilled in another important way, as Cristo Rey students leave the classroom five days a month. Corporate partnerships are a key component of the Cristo Rey success and that support involves students going to the workplace and engaging in the same kinds of activities they'll embrace after college. College counselor Pamela Linton assured me these jobs aren't about getting coffee and delivering mail; they include tasks like designing spreadsheets and interpreting their results, where students learn about real life doing real work.

Experiencing the value of a college education only seems to embolden Cristo Rey students to get there. Ten weeks into their senior year, almost all of Detroit Cristo Ray's 55 seniors have applied to one college; many have applied to three or more, and the class has earned over $220,000 in merit-based scholarships. They are well on their way to shattering the school record of over $2 million in scholarships, which would average out to about $40,000 of college help per student.

It's always good for schools to want to make themselves better, but given Cristo Rey's success with the age-old combination of hard work, community support and hands-on learning, Arne Duncan should rent office space in this beautiful old Southwest Detroit school with the forward-looking curriculum. Not only would he save a fortune on education futurists and feasibility studies, but no US student would be dreaming about college. Instead, they'd be living the dream.