“I was in way more trouble, I didn’t listen at all, but now I have more respect for people and I care about a lot of things that I didn’t care about before” – Tobias Felton, 8th grade
Tobias Felton needed a great teacher to inspire and support him. That’s not uncommon for high school-aged students in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts–a community known as much for its famed “Towers” of found objects as for anti-police brutality unrest in the 60s. Historically in Watts, many male teenagers attended public high schools with elevated dropout rates, furthering an existing and persistent achievement gap for the entire community. At Green Dot’s Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy, Tobias and his peers are working together, and with devoted educators encouraging them, to navigate the choices that can support or undermine their academic success.
But they have help. Math teacher Damon Rutledge is one of those working to help his students overcome these obstacles.
Rutledge created the Urban Scholars program, a specialized program designed to provide African American male students the resources to thrive at school. Urban Scholars is especially focused on connecting students with positive male role models in the community. Rutledge’s goal for Urban Scholars students is for 100 percent of participants to graduate high school, and for 90 percent of students to attend a four-year college or university.
Uplifting Urban Scholars
The Urban Scholars recently attended a mentor leadership conference in Palm Springs. The conference was facilitated by Advocates USA, a nonprofit group that mentors students across the United States by providing experiences for students to network with, and learn from, many successful adults from various backgrounds. While there, students participated in panel presentations and met other men of color, who have established successful careers and in whom students could see themselves.
“It was important for the boys to attend the conference so that they could see, meet, and interact with successful men of color from around the country,” says Rutledge.
One way the Urban Scholars program motivates students to reach their goals is through formal reflection. Urban Scholars students begin their school days by journaling. They keep their journals to monitor their current progress and remind themselves how much they have grown. Journaling is followed by an enrichment lesson, which features lectures on subjects ranging from black history to positive masculinity. Additionally, Rutledge sets aside one day each week for academic intervention, holding specialized tutoring sessions to keep students on track for academic growth and graduation.
The Urban Scholars program is celebrating its fourth year at Ánimo Watts, and Rutledge is thrilled with its progress as he now supports nearly two dozen students.
“I plan on leaving the state to go to a four-year university to major in Engineering and Computer Science,” says Urban Scholar, Malachi Welch. “I used to talk a lot in class, but now I don’t talk as much as I used to and I have way more respect for my teachers.”
Tobias and Malachi are just two of many civic-minded students who will graduate high school in the coming years with exposure to a variety of disciplines and opportunities provided by Ánimo Watts College Preparatory Academy’s Urban Scholars Program.