Devyon Johnson, a rising high school senior, said that before he started participating in Project Ready, he was unfocused and “headed down the wrong path.”
“If I had not joined Project Ready, I would be that student who was quick to snap off and didn’t care what anyone said. I only thought about myself and didn’t pay attention to the consequences down the road. Project Ready taught me to look at the future and what will come from the actions you do now,” Devyon said.
The Urban League of Greater Atlanta launched its Project Ready college readiness and life skills program at Benjamin E. Mays High School in 2011, fittingly paying tribute to a historical giant in education and meeting a very present urgent need.
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays dedicated his life to making college available and accessible to people of color. He served as president of Morehouse College for 27 years, and compelled students to excellence in scholarship, civic activism, and in life, itself.
Project Ready carries on that legacy.
Devyon said he met Mrs. Pack when he was in 10th grade and had been called to the school’s office after getting into a fight.
“She told me about Project Ready and I realized this was an opportunity I didn’t want to let slip away. I started straightening up my grades and participating in all the activities,” Devyon said.
“One of the most memorable was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade 12 of us marched in. I carried a sign that said ‘New Age, Same Dream.’ Project Ready has opened up my eyes and taught me how to use my leadership skills, how to speak up, and how to express my feelings. I am not afraid to introduce myself when I enter a room.”
Devyon said he probably would not have aimed for attending college if he had not joined Project Ready. Now, he expects to apply to Morehouse, Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities, with an eye toward majoring in business management and running his own business one day.
“A college degree (or some postsecondary education) today is as important as a high school degree was a few decades ago, in order for young people to earn an income that will put them in the middle class. Our youth are very well-spoken and a have a desire to succeed. We are promoting equality, access to opportunities they may not have, so that they can have the same advantages of others who may have been born into a different income level,” Kaija Pack said.
Through Project Ready, students are supported to achieve their highest academic potential, graduate from high school on time prepared for post-secondary education and to identify and pursue careers in high growth, high demand fields. The program works in partnership with school administrators, counselors, teachers, parents, mentors, post-secondary educational institutions and other supporters and students.
So far, Project Ready has seen 250 participants graduate from high school and go on to college, the military or technical and certification programs that prepare them for careers in well-paying jobs, including in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). At Mays, the on-time graduation rate for the 2014-15 academic year was 96 percent when the most recent graduation rate data for the Atlanta Public Schools is 59.1 percent for the 2014 academic year.
This school year, the program had 57 students in grades 9 through 12, many from low-income and single-parent households. Twenty-five were seniors: 24 of them graduated on time and one will finish this summer. All have been accepted to some form of post-secondary education for the fall 2015 term.
Demetrius Perkins Jr. is one of them. He is headed to Fort Valley College and he credits Project Ready for getting him there. “Without Project Ready, I would not have considered a four-year college.” Now, he is committed to graduating and one day operating a business “producing events, music, plays,” and more.
Rising senior Sirnika Winder said her path to college also is assured because of Project Ready. When she came to the program in 2013, “I had the worst attitude” and was not doing well in school, Sirnika said.
“Project Ready changed me. I started making good grades, changed my attitude, and started looking forward to college,” Sirnika said. “My coach, Ms. Pack, has helped me stay on track and treats me like one of her daughters. After I graduate I will continue to stay involved with Project Ready. It’s like my second family, and that kind of bond is what ensures success.”
Project Ready coaches offer academic support, mentorship, and individualized tracking. The program also exposes the students to the National Urban League’s college readiness curriculum “Project Ready 2.0”, college tours, behind the business tours, guest speakers, team exercises and community service activities that involve students, parents, teachers and volunteers.
Each year, a group of students participate in the National Urban League Youth Summit that is conducted in conjunction with the National Urban League Annual Conference and they experience life on a college campus and engage in community service activities. This year a group of eight students and two chaperones travelled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the conference.
“We involve our students in community projects and life skills learning that will prepare them for adult lives of contribution and success,” Pack said. “Our students put in more than twice the number of community service hours the school system requires for graduation, which is 75. At the least, our students put in 175 hours, and some, like my daughter, put in 600 hours and more.”
“The Urban League of Greater Atlanta understands the vital importance of every child graduating from high school on time ready for college, careers and a quality life and economically viable future. We stand committed to continue and expand Project Ready as a model for improving the high school graduation rate for Atlanta and other public school systems throughout the greater Atlanta region,, said Nancy Flake Johnson, president/CEO. Your support for Project Ready will help the ULGA continue the program at Mays High School and expand to other high schools in the Atlanta Metro area.