For two weeks, 40 black male high school students took classes at California State University, Long Beach. But they weren’t attending college — yet.
The 36 sophomores and seniors from Jordan High School and four students from other Long Beach Unified high schools were taking part in the Math Collaborative program.
The program — taken over by CSULB from Claremont Colleges in the fall of 2014 — is designed to encourage black male high school students to attend and complete college. It was created in 2011 as a partnership between the Claremont Colleges, LBUSD and CSULB. Twenty-five LBUSD ninth-graders participated in a summer residential program at Harvey Mudd University (one of the Claremont Colleges). The incoming high school freshmen took math classes from college faculty, graduate students and undergraduate math majors.
Rev. Leon Wood, director of the McNair Scholars Program at Claremont Graduate University, was the driving force behind the collaborative. He said then he saw algebra and higher-level math courses as critical to academic success.
The black male demographic has a history of not attending or completing college when compared to others, officials said.
According to the Campaign for College Opportunity’s State of Higher Education in California-Black Report (May 2015), the CSU system improved its graduation rates between 1999 and 2008 from 5% to 8% for black students and 16% to 24% for white students (graduating within four years). However, the report indicated work needed to be done.
“Four-year graduation rates are too low for all groups,” the booklet said.
Brett Waterfield, director of student life and development at CSULB, has worked with black males for the past five years in the Men’s Success Initiative. He said when Claremont’s memorandum of understanding expired with LBUSD, it was natural for CSULB to take the reins, hosting the Math Collaborative. CSULB has been involved with the program since its beginning, providing counselors and advisors who helped with college and financial aid applications.
“They’re local youth, so we should be working with them,” Waterfield said.
He’s spent the past several months working on the logistics of the program, such as housing, classrooms and instructors. The students are living in campus dormitories, paired with a peer mentor and taught math, writing, reading and how to take the SAT/ACT.
“It’s really important for us to have it here,” CSULB President Jane Close Connoley said. “It’s promoting the college promise and it’s in line with our commitment to diversity… To me it was a no-brainer to have it here. It has a track record of success.”
Sixteen of the 25 students from the program’s first year (2011) will attend college this fall. The ones not enrolled in college either moved or transferred to other high schools. Ten are headed to a four-year university; seven of those will attend CSULB. Six are going to a community college.
Jermon Humphrey, who will be a senior at Jordan High School, said he’s learned from both the program during the school year and the two-week intensive at CSULB. That included leadership and entrepreneurial skills, African heritage, taking tests and writing essays. He said he plans to attend college — hopefully with the help of the Posse Foundation — as well as write a book and open a couple of businesses. The Posse Foundation places groups of 10 public high school students together at a university, and provides financial and academic support.
The collaborative doesn’t just cover math, said Doris Robinson, a former principal at William C. Bryant Elementary School in Long Beach. She now helps run the Urban Math Collaborative at LBUSD and instructs part of CSULB’s intensive program.
“It’s any subject they’re not achieving in,” Robinson said.
She said she tells her collaborative students they must carry at least a 3.5 grade point average. If they don’t, she said, the students feel they can always improve their grades just enough to pass.
LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said he was pleased with the collaborative as it mirrors the Long Beach College Promise — a partnership between LBUSD, local colleges and the city.
“We had a great partnership with Claremont, but it’s far greater to have it local,” he said.
He said organizers always look at how to improve the program, and he hopes to expand it to other high schools in the district. There is a possibility of opening it to other demographics, he said, but the decision was made to focus on black males first.
“That’s the one demographic that’s in crisis when it comes to higher education,” he said.
Emily Thornton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.