Studies show an academic achievement gap between black and white students in the US, with black males especially affected by factors resulting in lower academic achievement. Male students of color are less likely to graduate high school and to pursue college degrees.
NY State Department of Education statistics show the demographics of Peekskill High School, with 1029 students in grades 9 through 12, as follows:
HOW BLACK DIAMONDS IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE:
Black Diamonds Academic Success Inc. began at Peekskill High School in 2018, with its incorporation in 2020. Its mission: "To mentor young men of color to become high achieving students who are well prepared and ready for life after high school." www.bdasinc.org Peekskill Rotarian Martin McDonald heads this effort.
Black Diamonds works with students, their parents and the school system to engage the young men in three critical areas to close the achievement gap: attendance, homework and behavior.
Mentors monitor students' grades, attendance, any behavioral issues that may arise, and work with them through their acceptance to college or trade schools. Weekly meetings are held, sometimes with guest speakers who share their own life stories or areas of expertise. These have included several Peekskill Rotary members.
Community service is mandated. Black Diamonds have enthusiastically joined with local organizations celebrating Black History Month, Women's History Month, Downs Syndrome Awareness, National Night Out, and more. They worked with Galotta House to provide 300 hot meals to local residents during the pandemic, and in the annual Turkey Trot sponsored by Fred's Pantry, a Peekskill food pantry. They volunteer at Rotary and other community events.
Moreover, Black Diamonds have been advocates for local initiatives. They joined with the school district PTO and others to receive $14 million in grant assistance from NYS Department of Education for the Peekskill schools. They were the initial advocates for the installation of an artificial turf field for the high school, which effort was successful. They honored the memory of Peekskill HS graduate W. Hayward Burns, a noted civil rights lawyer and law school dean, who died tragically in South Africa in 1996, by cleaning and decorating his gravesite as part of Peekskill's Juneteenth observance.
Students in the program are at all levels of academic achievement. 61 young men have participated in the program since its start, with 16 who have gone on to college after graduation. As the new school year is about to begin, 12 Black Diamonds members are returning, with an expected membership of 25-30 in the 2023/24 year. Membership is not restricted by race or ethnicity.
A critical piece of the Black Diamonds program is college visits and connection with student organizations on campuses. The 2023/24 school year will be the fifth year of college tours and will take place during spring break. These visits have been largely to historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) on the East Coast. Students experience college life first hand and learn about the opportunities offered at each.
Past tours have included the Univ. of Richmond, Morgan State Univ., Hampton Univ., Howard Univ., Univ. of Maryland, Tuskegee Institute, and Syracuse Univ. The tours involve the costs of chartering of busses and of accommodations for the students and their chaperones. Expenses have been met through successful fundraisers by the students themselves and by donations from other local groups, including Peekskill Rotary.
Addendum to Project Description (added after the project was signed)
Funds provided will be in the form of scholarships to individual students enrolled in Black Diamonds for the express purpose of participating in the college tours. These will be awarded to students who have involved themselves in Peekskill Rotary projects and fundraisers. These include assistance at our Cherry Blossom and Fall Festivals, our two main fundraisers at which Black Diamonds have been particularly helpful. It also includes participation in Interact, club initiatives in literacy, mental health and veterans' appreciation, helping to instill the concept of Service Above Self in the next generation.