Program helps group of 'high-risk freshmen' get into college

Every participant accepted into 4-year university

ORLANDO, Fla. – Four years ago, a group of Evans High School boys set a goal to get into a four-year university. Not only did they meet the goal, they gained invaluable experiences and grew as young men.

The group of 22 African-American boys was part of an initiative inspired by President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" program. Teacher Jarvis Wheeler recruited some high-risk freshmen, and then taught them in a special elective class every year.

"Our ceilings are just as high as any other community. It's our ground floor, having those basic resources, basic support systems and basic motivation that often lacks. So I knew if I gave them those basic skill sets, it would set them apart, and they would take off," Wheeler said.

The class taught life skills, encouraged brotherhood and required community service, and students were not allowed to drop grades. In fact, if one student failed, everyone would be punished. Student Deion Perry said the lessons were life-changing.

"There is no one man standing. If one of us got bad grades, we all got bad grades. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed. We're a team," he said.

As part of the program, the teens did 2,000 hours of community service, visited colleges, worked with mentors and read books to help them reach goals. The end result? Every participant was accepted into a four-year university.

They also collectively received $50,000 in scholarships. Many chose Florida colleges. Student Jeremiah Townsend said this is just the beginning.

"We're defying the odds. Everybody's probably going to look at us a certain way, see our skin tones and think we aren't going to do anything. But we're all about business," Townsend said.

Mentors hope to continue the program with a fresh group next year, but they say they need more support.