Sutton Scholars in 2021

In 2020—an extremely challenging year, in which the pandemic rendered new recruitment impossible—the program served 65 students across all four grades. As of this writing, recruitment remains very difficult due to ongoing pandemic restrictions, which make it impossible for us to access potential participants in the schools. Additionally, privacy regulations and overburdened school staff make it problematic for schools to share the home contact information of or create contacts with potentially interested students. Because of these realities, we estimate serving around the same number of students in 2021 as in 2020. As we look toward 2022, in which we anticipate in-person learning will be fully re-established, we will work to rebuild the 9th and 10th grade cohorts toward a more immediately attainable overall program capacity of 80. A capacity of 80 will also facilitate financial viability via cost efficiencies that better enable the renewal of existing funding sources and the identification of new revenue streams. It will additionally allow smaller staff-to-participant ratios and thus intensify participant learning.

In the summer of 2021, we anticipate that Scholars will experience a hybrid program format of three days in-person, one day virtual. Program days will consist of one-half day for instruction, reflection/discussion, and activities, and one-half day for YouthWorks employment responsibilities and job training. If pandemic conditions permit, one-half to one day a week will be devoted to relevant field trips such as our annual visit to the African American museum in DC and visits to businesses established by local entrepreneurs. If such travel is not yet possible, “field trips” will be conducted via virtual tours, visits and discussions.

Unfortunately, the pandemic made it impossible to engage in a YouthWorks partnership in 2020. Instead, with Advisory Board approval and donations raised from private sources, we implemented an internal jobs readiness component to the summer curriculum. Scholars who successfully completed the overall summer program, including this jobs component, received a stipend from Sutton Scholars that was comparable to what YouthWorks would have offered. This stipend is critical for program participants in normal times and even more so in the pandemic as a supplement to household income. As we learned in Year One of the program, potential participants will necessarily choose a job or an income-providing program over an offering that lacks a stipend.

On July 30th, 2020 Scholars, parents, guardians, Advisory Board members, educators, and program supporters witnessed the completion of our virtual summer session. Based on staff evaluations, mentor feedback and Scholar self-evaluations, over 90% of all participants demonstrated an improved ability to exercise defined skills in relational, classroom, professional, and social settings and demonstrated an understanding of and achievement in their class’s learning objective.

There was a feeling of appreciation for the commitment of our educational professionals and a deep sense of support for Scholars who successfully completed the 2020 summer session. Our 12th grade cohort celebrated the completion of their four-year summer experience with self-affirmations, their senior charge, the ceremonial passing of the key to the 11th and 10th grade cohorts, and the installation of their Alumni officers. Closing presentations for the 11th and 10th grade cohorts demonstrated creativity and fortitude as Scholars told stories about their personal journeys and lives in pandemic Baltimore.

On top of these successes, we are proud to note that all Scholars who started Sutton Scholars in 2016 and completed the program in 2019 are currently attending institutions of higher learning. Additionally, 2020’s graduating class saw 60% of the Scholars accepted into College and 40% enter other career options such as vocational training or military service.

Sutton Scholars’ curriculum remains structured as it has been in prior years:

9th Graders engage in self-examination activities that culminate in the creation of a personal vision board—a visual way of telling others the story of who they are and who they dream of becoming. This creates a sense of self-awareness, the fundamental pre-requisite to all personal growth, and facilitates growing self-appreciation and self-worth.

10th Graders research/discuss issues impacting their communities. Building on the self-understanding gained in Year 1, Scholars are challenged to envision ways they might use their dreams, gifts and talents to help create a more just and sustainable world.

11th Graders examine their future options, ranging from vocational training to military service, to apprenticeships, to college possibilities. Practical job and college application/interview skills are taught that promote successful self-advocacy according to the criteria employers, job programs, and colleges utilize. Scholars are encouraged to pursue options in line with self-discoveries made in the prior two years, or with the ongoing evolution of their sense of self.

12th Graders interact with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to learn about turning innate talents, acquired learning and skills, and created opportunities into success. Scholars develop and implement a business plan, inclusive of funding “pitches.” Past examples include an in-program store for snacks and supplies and a commercial cleaning enterprise, complete with a multi-media ad campaign and paying customers. The underlying objective is to equip Scholars with the courage to take the initiative needed to achieve self-sufficiency and personal fulfillment in the pursuit of endeavors that improve themselves and make the world better.

Scholars also choose grade-level adjunct modules that focus on aspects of personal and professional growth. These are woven into the summer curriculum and the school year, focusing on Environmental Awareness, Stewardship and Justice; Financial Literacy; Communications; Entrepreneurship; and the use of modern Administrative skills including navigating current instructional and business platforms. Students come away with a deeper grasp of the qualities of Leadership, effective Communication, Tools for Success, and Relationship Management.

Financial Literacy, centrally important to modern life, is imparted throughout all training modules. Students master the budgeting/financial planning skills necessary for successful living, including banking basics, savings plans, understanding credit scores, the ins/outs of installment purchases such as auto loans and mortgages, and recognizing credit traps, debt cycles, and compound interest.

Special focus groups of female-only and male-only Scholars learn about self-care and self-esteem; joint sessions create mutual understanding and empathy. Scholars are equipped with the ability to recognize and establish boundaries, protect themselves from sexual harassment and abuse, have appropriate peer-to-peer and employee-boss interactions, and seek help if needed. Diocesan counseling resources, as well as professional therapeutic referrals, are available for Scholars for whom these discussions may bring to the surface past or current traumas.

Additional workshops cover conflict resolution, social media/technology (uses, etiquette, and pitfalls), résumé writing, interview techniques, appropriate on-the-job dress and interactions, healthy dating, nutritional cooking, community service projects, and educational fieldtrips.

Mentorship occurs in small cohorts of 4:1. For all four program years, Mentors assist Scholars in the integration of key lessons. These activities offer opportunities for skill development including essential work and interpersonal skills such as communication, an understanding of appropriate relationship boundaries and actions to take if these are violated, business planning, financial acumen, and career planning. Financial literacy is especially key for these young people to avoid being trapped in dysfunctional relationships and dead-end jobs.

Scholars select their job skills training field of choice from five categories:

  • Environmental – In previous years, Scholars have studied the water cycle, aquaponics systems, and environmental conservation. This past year, to tie it back to the theme of “building a better Baltimore,” Scholars examined environmental racism and how policies and practices neglect communities of color. Examples included the practice of redlining, black housing being relegated to flood-prone areas, the construction of Route 40 dividing West Baltimore, and the impacts of chicken factory farming on the Eastern Shore.
  • Communications – Students learn public speaking, effective writing techniques, photography, videography, audio editing, and composition. Students use these skills to prepare multi-media presentations for the summer program’s closing ceremony. Past projects have included composing and performing a song for the Sutton Scholars program, creating video ad campaigns and other presentations, interviewing students and staff, etc. Students participating in communications training work in tandem with the students participating in the entrepreneurship tract to help draft and execute a commercial for their businesses. Over the course of the program, they master the skills needed to communicate ideas and information visually and verbally to audiences and peers.
  • Entrepreneurship – Scholars are tasked with developing and marketing a business model of their choice. Students design a product or service and work in tandem with the students in the communications tract to design commercials and promotional materials. The Scholars then implement their business model throughout the summer program. Previous businesses have included an on-campus convenience store where students could purchase snacks and supplies, and a janitorial service that launched services and gained customers.
  • Administrative – Students learn the management and digital skills needed for office and clerical work, such as typing, recording keeping, filing, organizing calendars, problem solving, data management, and phone and computer skills. Office software platforms such as Google Docs and Microsoft Teams are taught and utilized.

Learning for each class is enhanced by the participation of Scholars in Conflict Resolution training, Yoga, Social Media and Technology workshops, community service projects and educational fieldtrips (such as to the Smithsonian’s African American Museum and to the businesses of successful local entrepreneurs).

Additionally and importantly, the program assigns each Scholar an adult Mentor who works with that Scholar for all four years of the Scholar’s participation. Mentors are selected via an application and background-check vetting process and receive specific training in adult-to-youth mentorship best practices and child protection (i.e., the recognition and prevention of abuse and misconduct). Each Mentor works in a group with up to four Scholars and commits to a specific pattern of supportive interaction monthly for 10 months each year. These small group settings offer the advantages of more divergent perspectives and mutual peer-to-peer support. Mentors also meet with each other as a group for reporting, processing, training, and mutual support and are held accountable by the Director of Community Engagement & Mentoring.

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