They call it a movement, not a program.
Those who came up with the idea for the Village Movement to help empower young men of color within the Los Angeles Unified School District say it’s a way to curb some of the poor statistics coming out of district research of graduation rates.
The novel program brings together volunteers and students of diverse backgrounds into campus "villages" to support an encourage young men who might otherwise slip behind their peers.
Those falling behind more than anyone else appear to be minority boys in some of the most economically challenged areas of Los Angeles.
"It’s just something that we need to do," says LAUSD Student Unit Executive Director Dr. Brenda Manuel. "Our young men need help, they need assistance and we felt that’s an area we want to focus in on."
The goals of the program are four-fold: to assist young men to graduate in the first place, be college-prepared and career-ready; to change the negative statistics for young men of color; to equip them to be strong men who are globally competitive, happy and healthy; and to work as a unified group of adults to change lives.
The schools that have access to the program are chosen based on need – whether a high number of minority students, a lower-performing school or by requests from the principal.
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Students, on the other hand, are hand-picked by the staff at the school. Currently, there are 14 boys from 17 different schools within LAUSD involved in the program.
"First of all you’ve got to realize that our boys are brilliant boys," says Wes Hall, who works with LAUSD as an educational expert but as a volunteer with this program. "But a lot of them, they don’t have the particulars, the strategies to win academically."
Hall says he likes to show the young boys how a man like himself was able to succeed in life. Hall is an author and national speaker.
"When you live in America, you see the American dream, you want the American dream, but you might not know how to get there," he says.
The Village is set to meet once a month – the volunteers and the students – with the hope that these kids will continue through to graduation, on the shoulders of a community simply fostering the growth.
"You can’t save everybody," says Hall. "What you can do is plant the seeds for the future."
Manuel says the group’s role is to help students study – but not study for them; to help them prepare – but not to prepare for them; and to help give them a roadmap to graduation – but not drive them to the finish line.
"I think we all need someone to mentor us," she says. "Someone to follow us, someone to help us with the roadmap, how to graduate, what do we do? That’s what this Village is going to do.”
Rowena Lagrosa is a Villager at Bernstein High School and says the students in her village vary as much as the volunteers.
"Students who can easily fall through the cracks, students who will make it but perhaps need that additional push and then other students who will make it on their own but can serve as a role model and example for their peers," she says of the diverse group.
Empowering the students to not only improve themselves, but share the wealth among those who are not part of the program is something the volunteers hope will catch on.
“We know that we’re starting is really a movement,” Lagrosa says. “It isn’t a program, or a can program or a curriculum, what it is is a commitment from the community to say that we are willing to give of ourselves.”
For more information on the Village Movement, you can contact Dr. Brenda Manuel by email at Brenda.Manuel@lausd.net. All volunteers will have to submit to a background check and fingerprinting scan.