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Back to School in the Nation's Capital

Back to School. A time of excitement, anxiety and... failure?
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Back to School. A time of excitement, anxiety and... failure?

Statistics predict that only 20 percent of D.C. Public School (DCPS) graduates starting college this fall will finish on time. Most will not graduate at all.

One of those new freshmen, Mohamed, earned a scholarship to Boston College. If you were around Martha's Table last spring, you couldn't miss him proudly wearing his Boston College t-shirt. A smart, confident and accomplished young man -- no way he'll be a statistic, right?

Mohamed is one of 11 DCPS graduates that were part of the Martha's Table after-school program last year. Every one of them has just started college. They are attending schools across the U.S., from Howard University to the University of Oklahoma.

Consider that more than 70 percent of the jobs in the D.C. area require at least a BA. Then remember the dire prediction that only two or three of our 11 DCPS graduates will finish college. The odds against them are overwhelming. Imagine going off to school when the data is telling you, "Have a nice day. You will probably fail."

Mohamed spoke to Martha's Table's teen program staff the day before he left for school. He talked about how unprepared he felt at the freshman orientation earlier in the summer. Beyond coursework that looks overwhelming, there were activities he never experienced before such as a boat ride and a formal dinner. Mohamed laughed as he spoke about how much silverware was on the table for each person to navigate. For Mohamed, eating and hanging out with his friends never looked like this.

Too often, academic deficiencies and feelings of alienation undermine otherwise promising futures. We must do better. Experiences like Mohameds' have prompted us to begin formalizing our college support systems for our Martha's Table kids. With the help of social media, we are beginning to meet these challenges. Our graduates use Skype for weekly check in calls and Twitter to connect across many campuses.

Aside from virtual connections, good old fashioned care packages are prepared monthly by volunteers with donated items. We want to support our college kids and continue to look for ways to create the structures they need so they can support each other. The message our students should hear as they go to college is "Have a nice day Class of 2015. We will be with you all the way."

If you would like to read Mohamed's full story or donate for our monthly care packages, please visit our website at