Sunday, December 16, 2018

Diego's Story

We at RISE first met Diego when he was a junior.  He is yet another student who inspires us.  He will be graduating from Anacostia High in 2019.  Whenever I am having a bit of a bad day, I think about students like Diego and keep forging on.  Here is his story.  

"I live in Anacostia in Southeast Washington, D.C.  Growing up in Southeast has its challenges.  In my neighborhood there are homeless people and trash everywhere.  I also see a police presence every day.  Two years ago my close friend, Kevin, was shot to death a few blocks from my school and a few blocks from my house.  Last week another student from our school was killed.  When I was four, my sister, who was 21, had to become my parent.  It has been hard for my sister to manage her job and to take care of me.  We have struggled with bills, sometimes selling personal belongings just to keep the lights on.  

I have stayed away from gang banging neighborhoods and separated myself from others so I can start to focus more on school and sports. I was a captain of my football team for two years and I made first-team conference in 11th grade.  I was a part of the student government association my 11th grade year.  I have made the honor roll most quarters.
I am planning to attend North Carolina-Central University and to become a sports broadcaster.  I am thankful for RISE for the opportunity to go to college and be successful."


Back in 1983, I announced to the Edmund Burke School assembly that our #1 tennis player’s league tournament championship was “priceless.”  No amount of salary at an engineering or accounting firm could compensate for the satisfaction of working with a kid for three years and see him achieve great things.

Thirty-five years later, I had the same feeling last weekend when one of our MATHletes from 2010, Josh, graduated from North Carolina A&T.  Josh graduated from Anacostia High School in 2013.  He and I are not sure, but we think perhaps five of the 150 or so graduates of that class have finished college.

RISE has worked with over 500 Anacostia students since 2010.  Six of these students have lost their lives.  A few have graduated from college, but it is an uphill climb.  Anacostia students are not as well prepared for college as many of their peers.  A relatively small tuition bill can derail their plans.  Family distractions can necessitate their return home.

Josh learned how to be self-sufficient once he learned he was in the wrong college for him freshman year.  On his own, he transferred to North Carolina A&T, the highest rated public historically black college in the country.  One of only a handful of history majors at A&T, Josh is applying for an assignment with Teach for America.

Josh had his ups and downs while in college, but he persevered.  His role model and guiding light, his grandfather, died in early 2018. One of things I love most about RISE is we stay in touch with our alumni.  RISE will always be around for Josh, if only to ask, "How is it going?"  In Josh's case, it should be going just fine.

Friday, August 10, 2018

First Days of College

It is always a humbling experience to be the adult who drops off a child at college.  One of our students admitted two years ago that he kept looking out his dorm window for the first two weeks, like some sort of recovery from trauma at home, when he always needed to know who was coming for him. 

Two weeks ago, I wrote our soon-to-be fifteen college freshmen: 

“Tomorrow the first of you departs for school.  On reflecting on the last three years, I am especially grateful for you all.  You have, just in the past year, battled homelessness, the death of a parent, the sudden departure of your principal, and God knows what else.  You have gotten jobs, badgered teachers and counselors, confided in me or your mentors, and just plain persevered.  You have excelled in school and in sports.

And you are not done with us.  One reason our students complete college at a rate five times the national average is we and you stay in touch.  Expect frequent texts and calls from me to see how you are doing.  I am also planning on seeing all of you on campus in a meeting with either your favorite professor or your advisor.  Here is the schedule: 

Sept 24-28--Ohio and West Virginia
Oct 2-4--Norfolk

Oct 9-12--Petersburg, North and South Carolina

I'll come back to you all with specific dates of my visiting as the days approach.  Those of you who are inside the Beltway--we don't need to plan ahead quite as much.

This is the beginning of our next phase, where RISE can still be of help to you as you become more and more independent.  Then, before you know it, you will be helping me and others in all kinds of ways.


One last piece of advice for those of you going outside the Beltway to live in a strange new dorm somewhere:  You will be homesick.  You will miss the good and the bad.  Imagine missing the noise and the sirens and the chaos, but you will.  Do not try to come home for a visit until Thanksgiving at the earliest.  You will just get even more homesick when you return to school.  For those of you 5 or more hours away, I even suggest you find a friend to host you for Thanksgiving.

Don't forget the army of supporters at RISE who have your back.  Good luck in the beginning of this journey.

Much love,

Mr P”