Nonprofit groups in education are dependent on success to maintain their funding. So it’s refreshing when one takes a hard look at itself and announces — loudly, and in public — that it needs to do better.
This was the case for Summer Search, a national group with an impressive record of getting low-income students into and through college. The problem was, the vast majority were young women.
“This is very common with youth-development programs,” said Deidre McCormack Martin, executive director of the Seattle office. “But we really want to crack this nut because national education statistics for males — especially black and Latino males — are abysmal.”
The Summer Search approach identifies low-income students early in high school — not top scholars or stragglers, but what the group calls “the invisible middle.”
Most are freshmen with GPAs around 2.5. After sophomore year, each goes on a three-week wilderness trip. The following year, it’s either international travel — say, a trek to Costa Rica or Tibet — or academic enrichment.
“It’s places they’ve never been, with people they’ve never met, doing things they’ve never done,” McCormack Martin said. “We really want to open their world, because they gain a ton of confidence and begin to see a different future for themselves. They always come back thinking they can do anything. Then we capitalize on this by helping them invest in their own academic achievement in school.”
During the school year, each student gets weekly check-ins with a mentor and, later, receives one-on-one college guidance.
To date, Summer Search has used this approach with 4,200 young people in the Bay Area, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and the Puget Sound.
Ninety-eight percent of the group’s Seattle-area students (about 275 so far) graduate high school, and 90 percent have either completed or are enrolled in college, McCormack Martin said. Most are in the Renton, Highline, Tukwila and Seattle school districts.
The program is free. But Summer Search is looking for a very specific type of student: low-income, empathic and possessed of leadership potential.
“We want to make an investment in students with the potential to become leaders who give back and help their communities onto the same path,” said McCormack Martin.
Last year, she pushed enrollment rates among young black and Latino men from 38 percent to 48 percent. By 2017, she aims to even the field even further.