They're the terrible trio in many of our neighborhood schools: lack of funds and resources, overcrowding and teachers who only teach for the tests. Any one of them could leave your child unprepared to compete in higher learning settings, and they don't discriminate, adversely affecting not only struggling students but also advanced ones who aren't stimulated by the curriculum. But don't lose faith. "No matter where we live, each of us can forge strong relationships to create a web of support that ensures our children's success," says Felicia DeHaney, Ph.D., president and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute. Studies show that teens who participate in after-school programs are three times less likely to skip class, use drugs or consume alcohol. ESSENCE consulted some of the top minds in education to pin-point eight organizations committed to fostering academic excellence in our kids. Look for us to bring you more resources in the coming months.
BELL (BUILDING EDUCATED LEADERS FOR LIFE)
Sometimes what kids get in the classroom just isn't enough. That's where BELL comes in. This after-school and summer program provides academic services, enrichment activities and community engagement to kids, grades K through 8, in under-resourced urban communities across the country.
ADMISSION: Parents should check with their school principal to determine if BELL is offered.
CONTACT: experiencebell.org or 617-740-0489.
PARENT TALK: "My children are doing such positive things because of BELL. The staff helps students understand that if they put their mind to it, they can do anything."—Donna Stuart, 51, Bronx, NY
THE INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP
Is your son thinking about dropping out of college? The Institute for Responsible Citizenship may be able to help. The Washington, D.C.-based organization offers a summer leadership program that focuses on mentoring and professional development for African-American men in college.
ADMISSION: A complete application is due in early February for the following summer's session.
PARENT TALK: "During my son's tenure, he met some of America's most influential leaders in the private and public sector. He now knows and understands completely what success looks like." —Leon B. Brown, Sr., 50, Stockton, CA
DISNEY DREAMERS ACADEMY
Dreams do come true. Every spring the Disney Dreamers Academy enrolls 101 high school students to participate in a four-day education and mentoring program that inspires and motivates teens to achieve their greatest ambitions.
COST: None. If accepted, a student and his or her parent receive a free trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
ADMISSION: Nominations for the Class of 2013 must be submitted via an online application by fall 2012.
PARENT TALK: "DDA gives the youth tangible, practical and hands-on lessons that build courage and uplift their self-esteem, allowing them to become tomorrow's next great leaders." —Symone Starr-Parker, 46, Los Angeles
If your children struggle to keep up or you want your child to skip ahead, the Kumon's customized curriculum might be the solution. With more than 1,300 centers across the country and more than half of its students studying above grade level, Kumon is committed to individualized academic development.
COST: $95–$125 per subject, per month (prices vary by location).
CONTACT: kumon.com or 877-586-6671.
ADMISSION: Open enrollment.
PARENT TALK: "There are no grades in Kumon, which makes learning more enjoyable. After two years in Kumon, my son now raises his hand first in class and is more confident in reading and math." —Jovanca Shelton, 39, Edison, NJ
If your high school senior is college bound but you're not sure how to pay for it, check out the Gates Millennium Scholars. This college scholarship program promotes academic excellence and offers financial and personal support to high-achieving students of color.
ADMISSION: Academic record and community service involvement are heavily considered for admission. Deadline is mid-January 2013 for next fall.
CONTACT: gmsp.org or 877-690-4677.
PARENT TALK: "Being supported at each level of education provides my son with peace of mind and allows him to focus even more on his academics. Gates Millennium Scholars are confident, high-achieving leaders in their communities." —Brenda Hester-Smith, 52, Graham, NC
All public schools are not created equal. KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, proves that. KIPP is its own network of college-preparatory public schools committed to serving low-income and minority families. Located in 20 states and D.C., KIPP serves 33,000 middle school students, and 88 percent of its graduates go on to college.
ADMISSION: Open enrollment.
PARENT TALK: "Before Alexis came to KIPP she was just getting by academically, but now she is one of the top-achieving students in a school that is truly a beacon of educational excellence. I am the proudest father in the world." —Damion J. Cooper, 40, Baltimore
"Often" and "early" are two of the most important words in Educare, a research-based Head Start program dedicated to building a strong foundation from six weeks through the first five years of a child's development. With Educare's network of teachers and social workers, infants, toddlers and kindergarten-bound children enter primary school with little to no gap in their achievement.
COST: None, but families must meet Head Start income requirements.
PARENT TALK: "Educare treated me with respect and made it clear that they were as committed as I was to making sure my baby was going to be ready for kindergarten and for college."—Keisha Keith, 39, Chicago
THE POSSE FOUNDATION
The Posse Foundation recruits diverse high-achieving high school students and sends them to college together as a posse so they can be a support system for one another. The program works with some of the nation's best universities to grant Posse scholars full scholarships.
ADMISSION: Students must be nominated by their high school or a community-based organization, be in the first term of their senior year, and demonstrate leadership and academic potential.
PARENT TALK: "Posse is a great web of support, not just for the students but for the families as well. They've helped shape my daughter into a vibrant young woman."—Sophie Nyanue, 53, Chicago