With GPAs Up, High School Boys Preparing for SAT Tests and Trip to South Africa
Weekly Tutoring Sessions and Mentorship Yielding Improvements
A year ago, Matthew Durousseau was a quiet high school sophomore from South Central Los Angeles earning C’s and B’s on his report card. His protective single mother, Debbie Waggener, did most of the talking for him in conversations and never let him walk to the park or the movies by himself.
Then he was invited to join the JPMorgan Chase Fellowship Initiative (TFI) – a three-year academic and social program for young men of color from economically distressed communities. Forty high school sophomore boys from Greater LA – who are African American, Latino and Pacific Islander – were selected to spend three Saturdays a month at the bank’s downtown offices. Dressed in suits and ties like professionals, they receive intense academic tutoring and professional development guidance. The goal is not to turn them into bankers but to usher them into four-year universities studying the careers of their choice.
For Durousseau, the program has been life changing. His October 2015 report card revealed all As and Bs, including in AP history and pre-calculus. His mother reports a new confidence and passion in him, as well as great conversations. “This year, as soon as he gets home from school, he gets his homework knocked out,” Waggener said. “He’s spending more time on it. TFI has really inspired him to be more serious.”
This summer, the fellows traveled to Northern California for an Outward Bound experience camping, sea kayaking and hiking five miles a day for 10 days with no shower or modern amenities. They went on college tours to nine campuses, including UC San Diego, Stanford and UC Berkeley. They attended a week of academic enrichment courses at UC Santa Cruz to prepare for their junior year of high school.
Durousseau had a hard time adjusting to the Outward Bound experience at first. “I wasn’t expecting to be in the woods without a bathroom,” he said. “We had a tarp and we slept on the ground. It was a whole new experience.”
Durousseau said he got used to the lack of showers, but the pre-cooked food was a lot to swallow. “We had salami a lot,” he said. “Macaroni and cheese with salami, spaghetti with salami, fried salami. We even had salami with honey in a soft tortilla, which is pretty good actually. One night we had to drink out of the creek. We had to put a chemical in the water to clean it. It tasted like a chemical. I really learned to appreciate basic things, like lights.”
Miles Warren, director of TFI for JPMorgan Chase in LA, agrees the trip was hard. “It was challenging physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Warren, who chaperoned. “Some of the fellows had never been out of Los Angeles or away from home. They learned to support each other and use survival skills to cook, pitch a tent and fill water bottles in a creek.
“We hiked from sea level to 2,000 feet in elevation. Everybody made it through. And we saw the great Redwoods and the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. It was awesome.”
Now in their second year, the fellows have returned to their Saturday sessions, this time focused on SAT test preparation. The group will take the SAT together March 5, 2016. Next summer, they will travel to South Africa for 17 days.
“I never thought I would make it to South Africa this young,” said Durousseau. “I’ve been to Mexico but nowhere that far. I’m ready. I just hope we don’t go to the woods.”
Both Waggener and Durousseau are excited about the future. Said Durousseau, “I feel like if I keep working hard, I can get into any college I want to.”