A year felt like an eternity for senior Wheatley High School student Jokary Johnson, as he waved at his classmates who he hadn’t seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson, along with 59 others, united for the Houston Independent School District Miles Ahead Forging Week Scholars program (MAS), a free, week-long summer experience that provides high school students from three traditionally lower-rated HISD schools (Wheatly, Kashmere and Worthing) the chance to “learn, connect, motivate and inspire.”
The program began in October 2019, to address some of the difficulties associated with access to top colleges and universities in the U.S. The MAS program’s goal is to equip young men of color with college readiness skills, rigorous reading and writing resources, mentors and instructional specialists ahead of the academic school year.
With the support from state Sen. Borris Miles and about $2 million in grant funding, MAS has successfully ushered Black and Hispanic students into some of the nation’s most prestigious collegiate institutions.
The scholars sat socially distanced in the host campus, Texas Southern University’s School of Public Affairs auditorium. Sen. Borris Miles joined in on a Zoom call from Washington D.C to welcome the returning upperclassmen and incoming 9th graders. He briefed students about his work at the Capitol and his commitment to the students of the program. He then posed a question to the scholars, “Tell me what you are here for?”
Austin Larry, an incoming 9thgrade Kashmere High School student stood up and responded “I’m here to further my future.”
This is Larry’s first time in the program and was elated to have mentors like Johnson to show him the ropes as he prepares for his entry into high school. “The only thing I’m struggling with is writing. My peers help me a lot and made things easier for me,” he said. “I like the size of the group and it would be nice to have more people join to become successful through this program.”
According to a report conducted by HISD’s Research and Accountability Department, there was a positive academic and socioemotional impact MAS had on the 2019-2020 scholars. It stated that the “events and activities provided real world and character-building experiences, prepared them for college, taught them how to give back to their communities, and to build networks while developing social skills.”
Johnson says his future goal is to invest in real estate and stocks and hopes to be an executive that leads his team down the right path, just like he does with his role as the MAS program team leader. “Before Miles Ahead, I didn’t know where I was going. I only focused on sports and so I didn’t have a sense of what I was going to do in life,” he explained. “This is a brotherhood.”
Wheatley, Worthing and Kashmere high schools are all predominately Black schools located in Houston’s most impoverished communities. Historically, the schools have failed to meet the state’s academic standards and are traditionally among HISD’s lowest-performing schools.
HISD has launched several initiatives in the past including their nationally recognized EMERGE program that helps first-generation and low-income students attend and graduate from the nation’s top colleges and universities. One of the differences between EMERGE and MAS is that MAS serves a smaller number of scholars.
“This is about building a legacy. We needed to start small because we’re learning. It’s more intentional so that we can produce the type of result we want to have with every student,” said Haskel J. Harvey III, senior manager at the Miles Ahead Scholars program. “We hope people can start to identify the program as an integral part of these communities. If we can get additional support, get more staff and resources, we’ll grow.”
Laura Onyeneho is the Defender Network Education Reporter and a Report For America Corps member. Email her at email@example.com