This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
As a sophomore at Edison, Carlos Ortiz had 59 unexcused absences and was on his way to dropping out. When first entering 10th grade, Ortiz said he was "excited about going to school because it was high school and I wanted to see how it was." But soon he struggled to understand his teachers and wrestled with math, on top of managing some out-of-school pressures.
"I don’t get a TransPass so I got to walk more than a mile to school every day; when it’s raining, dry, or whatever, and sometimes that made me not want to go. Sometimes I would miss a week, two weeks. … I just didn’t care," Ortiz said.
Ortiz soon found himself in truancy court. That’s where he met Edwin Desamour, founder of Men in Motion in the Community (MIMIC), a nonprofit that mentors young Latino males. Desamour was also a member of the African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce.
Responding to the need for more in-school mentors, MIMIC has held programs and workshops on social skills, self-esteem, and conflict resolution at Stetson Middle School and Kensington CAPA.
Desamour formed the group three years ago after hearing barbershop talk that praised old time gangsters and drug dealers. "I even heard my own name mentioned," said Desamour, who ran with a street gang and served eight-and-a-half years in prison for third-degree murder.
"The examples that we put out there, these kids are living by that, so we came up with the name MIMIC because we want kids to mimic what we do now, not what we used to do."
At Germantown High School, 44 boys are taking part in the Sankofa Passages Program, formerly known as the "444 Program," where four caring adults work with 44 boys. Ben Wright, assistant superintendent for alternative education, helped launch the initiative before the taskforce formed, "but by the time their report came out they said this is exactly what they were looking for, and we were able to put this on the table."
Teachers and principals identify boys who are not coming to school, have low academic achievement, and seem disengaged. Students meet with a mentor at "three critical time periods during the day – in the morning, advisory period, and end of the day," said program director Kamau Ptah. They discuss their cultural identity, issues that impact male youth development, strategies for navigating life, and daily obstacles to overcome.
The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC), a District partner in the program, supplies the mentors, and schools provide two teachers.
"I thought about dropping out because I didn’t want to face going to high school for a fifth year," Germantown senior Richard Haines said, "but this program has re-inspired me to continue, and finish."