Learning at school is a challenge for all children. Due to economic and social factors some children find school to be intimidating and discouraging, resulting in low attendance and high drop-out rates. In our Waterloo, Iowa school district African-American boys regularly score lower than Caucasian students on standardized tests, and two out of every three boys who enter high school fail to earn a diploma.
Some refer to this as an achievement gap or opportunity gap. The bottom line is that a low percentage of African-American students from our community are graduating from high school and entering college. One result is that too many end up in our criminal justice system. As a community we are faced with critical questions: will these young men – OUR young men -- end up in our schools or on the street? With they end up in college, or in jail?
The ‘promise’ of the Harbaugh-Williams Education Promise Fund is simple: if the 16 students involved graduate from high school in good standing and are accepted into a college or university, the Fund will pay for the first two years of their tuition. However, this effort doesn’t involve just dangling money for students to access at the end of high school. There is a plan, coordinated by dedicated volunteers.
A dedicated group of volunteer Board members currently coordinate a variety of activities to support Promise Fund students and motivate them toward high school graduation and acceptance into college. A sampling of these activities includes:
Individual Male Mentors. Most ‘Brothers of Knowledge for College’(BKC) students have had a male mentor since early elementary, and all students have access to a male mentor. These mentors meet multiple times each month with their students, and are invited to attend all Promise Fund activities.
Weekly Group Sessions. Since 2011, BKC students have been meeting weekly after school with two minority male counselors. This time is used to build group unity, and explore issues of identity and society. Leaders focus on development of responsibility, individual and group accountability, and impulse control.
Visits to College Campuses. Each spring BKC students spend a day touring a university or college campus and meeting with minority leaders and/or staff. Thusfar students have visited the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Wartburg College, and Drake University.
Regular Parent Nights. Once each semester BKC parents and siblings are required to attend a Parent Night, where a meal is served and an educational program is presented. These evenings usually involve frank and open discussions about age-appropriate topics. During middle school years topics have ranged from sex education to resisting gang membership, to preparing for the transition to high school.
Sweat Equity. Parents and guardians have helped raise money for ongoing Fund expenses through bottle deposit collection, and students will be expected to hold fundraisers for the Fund when they are in high school.
Group Mentoring Activities. Students have already been exposed to unique activities such as an environmental exploration day at a county park, watching and discussing the movie ‘Tuskegee Airmen’, and attending a hockey game. Future plans include building relationships with the Black Student Union at the local university.
Preparation for College. During high school years BKC students will be guided through the college testing and application process by experienced volunteers and professionals.