High School “Scholars” Take the Pipeline Into Their Own Hands
It all began with a few African American males who were achieving academically and tired of this making them the minority within their own race.
In 1990, those young men founded the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars (MAC) program at Shaker Heights High School, a mentorship program in which thriving 11th- and 12th- grade African American males encourage their younger peers to follow suit.
Today, I am one of these MAC Scholars leaders.
More than 20 years after the program’s founding, these Scholars—a group of educated and focused gentlemen—are amongst the most influential group in our 1,800 student high school, which is located in one of the country’s most historically diverse school districts.
They are visible on almost every sports team and extra-curricular activity, though this is not what makes them the most influential. What makes them influential is the fact that they have the power and opportunity to reach the school’s largest identifiable group of underperformers: African American males.
In Shaker Heights, we are targeting our fellow African American males. High dropout and incarceration rates and underperforming academic achievement is an unacceptable combination.
To counteract the disturbing trend of underachievement by Black males, our program reaches out to those boys who are underperforming academically and gives them something to aspire to.
Three types of students are invited to the MAC meetings: students who have not yet realized why it is important to do well in school; students who know that they have to do well and want to, but do not know how to seek help from their teachers, stay organized and take notes; and students who are already succeeding and can share their successes, motivations, methods.
As MAC Scholars leaders, we show the students not only the importance of academic achievement, but also the importance of respecting authority both in and out of the school building.
The theme of our meetings, year after year, is a focus on the choices we make.
In meetings with our “potential scholars” this year, we walked them through a comparison of two local stories.
The first was the tale of David Boone, a public school student in Cleveland who grew up surrounded by poverty, drugs and underachievement. He went from being homeless—abandoned by his parents—to a scholarship to Harvard, where he’s working to become an engineer. The other case was one of a local basketball star, Tony Farmer, who was fielding offers from college basketball teams across the country. That is, until he was seen on camera brutally assaulting his girlfriend in the lobby of her apartment building and ended up incarcerated.
Each of these gentlemen made a choice. One had nothing and gained the world. The other had the world at his feet and lost it all.
We also walk students through our school’s college resource site, which shows the number of Shaker students in the past decade who applied to each college, how many were admitted/denied and graphs them by GPA and test scores. Each year, we invite alumni scholars back to offer valuable advice from their collegiate and professional experiences.
The MAC Scholars program doesn’t address all of the policy and school discipline issues that have created the schools-to-prison pipeline, but instead focuses on personal responsibility.
Our goal is to open students’ eyes to their possibilities, showing them that the choice is theirs, and to provide them with the examples they so desperately need.
They need positive role models who give them positive reinforcement. They need to be taught that being a successful African American man is more than just rappers spitting a verse or athletes dribbling a ball.
Most of all, what the majority of our African American males need to stay in school and out of prison is to see their brothers doing the same.
Ifeolu Claytor is a senior at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, OH and a leader in the school’s Minority Achievement Committee Scholars program.