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Mentoring efforts make a difference

Community colleges use personal guidance to keep African American male students engaged.

Denzel Parker-Dixon, 19, was the only one in his group of friends to sign up for college. But now at the Community College of Philadelphia, he has found a place where the staff and students have his back.

That place is the Center for Male Engagement.

At Montgomery County Community College, the Minority Male Mentoring Program fulfills a similar need. Both programs use guidance to try to keep their African American participants engaged in school.

"Without the program, I probably would be out of school," said Parker-Dixon, a Frankford High School graduate.

The programs and their students aim to defy some daunting odds. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, just under 15 percent of African American males completed their community-college studies in three years' time.

Of the young black men in the Montgomery County program, 73 percent stayed in school for the 2010-11 school year compared with 63 percent for those not in the program.

In Philadelphia, 93 percent of the young black men in the program stayed in school during the 2009-10 school year compared with 41 percent not in the program.

But, the stay-in-school percentage dropped the following year to 50 percent.

CCP dean of students Ronald Jackson said the college was still studying why, but he remains committed to the program.

"The students have really started to help each other," he said.

Teaching the students that asking for help is not a sign of weakness is one of the program's toughest lessons.

"African American males don't ask for help," Jackson said.

Kyle Carolina, 22, said he got in trouble over an altercation with another student when he went to the Montgomery County college. Steady Moono, the college's vice president for student affairs who founded the college's mentoring program, "gave me a second chance to fix what I had done," he said. The college provost Victoria Bastecki-Perez became his mentor.

"I didn't know what a mentor was," said Carolina. "It changed my whole life."

At Bastecki-Perez's suggestion, he took a course about ancient civilizations that he was surprised to learn was taught by an African American professor. Now, Carolina says he is considering majoring in history.

"It opened him to all the possibilities that are available to him," Moono said.

To some, keeping a higher rate of students in school may seem modest, but Moono sees the results.

"We have touched a good number of students, and they are persisting," Moono said.