Can Mentoring Be a Game Changer for DC Public Schools?

This post was co-authored by David B. Shapiro, President and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, and Joe Echevarria, CEO of My Brother's Keeper Alliance.

In Washington, DC, school administrators are laying the groundwork for a bold new initiative to close the achievement gap for boys of color throughout the District. Through the Empowering Males of Color (EMOC) initiative, Mayor Muriel Bowser and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson have committed $20 million over the next three years to address the most urgent and persistent challenges facing male students of color, who make up 43 percent of the overall DCPS student population.

The EMOC is off to a promising start, having immediately recruited 500 adult participants to launch the program this fall. Here in the District, nearly 70 percent of all males between the ages of 5 and 24 are black and Latino, and we know these boys and young men face critical barriers to opportunity and mobility:

  • By fourth grade, nearly 50 percent of Black and Latino males are reading below grade level.
  • Black males are the least satisfied with school, with satisfaction rates 16 percentage points lower than the district's most satisfied students.
  • Despite recent gains, Black and Latino males are still graduating at rates lower than their peers; 48 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

These alarming statistics can only be addressed through ambitious and rigorous reform efforts. In 2014, President Obama announced the My Brother's Keeper Initiative calling on the nation to address disparities in opportunity and achievement for boys and young men of color. Communities across the country are answering the President's call to action, collaborating across the public and private sectors in support of our young people.

Now that the community has committed to investing its time, we must work together to secure and support the impact of that investment. Both My Brother's Keeper Alliance and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership are supporting the EMOC through on-the-ground consulting to ensure maximum success. The Alliance was launched this year by President Obama to spark the involvement of the business community in addressing these critical issues. In joining the Alliance, MENTOR brings 25 years of experience and a nationwide network of affiliates directly into underserved communities, providing technical assistance and evidence-based standards to advocate for investment in local mentoring programs.

Tragedies over the past year have made it increasingly clear that we must tackle opportunity gaps between young men of color and their peers. Our shared mission is to unite leaders across sectors, mobilize resources, and provide expertise for a movement to improve life outcomes for boys and young men of color. At the local level, we want to help support all those who are answering that call to action. Ultimately, our work will require patience, discipline, rigor, and accountability.

DC's public schools are striving to become a beacon for others in the work to ensure our young people are connected and on track. The futures of so many young people - as well as our nation's economy as a whole - depend on the ability of every American to reach their full potential.