Rafael Torres is a 2012 School Reform Blogging Fellow for RI-CAN.

I’m a sophomore at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence. When I began school this year, I took on a lot of responsibilities that soon began weighing me down. I thought I was going to have to drop some of my activities but after joining the Male Leaders of Alvarez everything changed.

Mr. Earl Edwards, a Teach For America 2010 Corps Member, founded a group called Male Leaders of Alvarez. There was a small application window and in early January I was one of four applicants were selected to participate in the year-round program. I do not a regret a second of being part of the MLA.

Mr. Edwards continuously teaches us not to limit ourselves so that we can unlock our true potential. And while he’s certainly demanding, his leadership program has taught me to speak and write better, encouraged me to perform community service and connected me with tutors from Rhode Island College. Our tutors help us with just about everything, from math problems to learning to deal with stress. Everybody there has become my support system, and thanks to them, I can say that I am an honors student who’s getting even better by the day.

One of the biggest problems that students face today is not being able to lean on anybody. Many students like me are easily overwhelmed, but with the help of my mentor and fellow leaders, we learn to take just about anything on.

Mr. Edwards also teaches us is that no matter how far we go, we must always remember where we came from. He encourages us to come back to Providence and give back to the community that saw us grow. And I hope to eventually help other young leaders like someone helped me.

For me, college will be my first step in becoming the community leader I aspire to be. With the help of Mr. Edwards and MLA, I have learned a lot about colleges in Rhode Island and even started to open up my mind to colleges in other states. On our first official college visit to Rhode Island College we attended a sociology class to get a feel of what the real college classes are like.

When we traveled to Massachusetts to visit Boston College, Mr. Edwards’ alma mater, we spoke with Dan Bunch, Director of Learning2Learn and students with backgrounds just like ours. Students like Pat and Phil told us to always push ourselves harder because there are people just like us out there doing things bigger than we imagine.

At Boston College we also shadowed current students through their daily routines, from attending class to getting some exercise to, eventually, eating out with friends. Because of this experience, I see myself possibly going out of state for college. And seeing how active college students are has made me want to get even more involved in my community.

As Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School enters their restart process, they should look into these types of mentorships and make sure that students are aware that they’re available. The benefits of programs like The Male Leaders of Alvarez or Assisted Leaders group are countless. I know because I’ve personally experienced them.

A lot of kids aren’t aware that they can go to college: some think college is academically impossible, and even those who do really well in school think they can’t afford college. Providence students need to know there are ways to finance college and that college is very much a possibility for everyone, even if if means starting with community college.

As a student in a turnaround school, I’ve heard a lot of education policymakers emphasize the importance of improving attendance. Instead of focusing on stricter attendance rules and penalties, they should consider “seducing” the students into coming to school. Programs like this are powerful enough to inspire students to arrive at school on time, but more importantly STAY and learn so that one day, they can make it to college like their mentors did.

Rafael Torres is a a sophomore at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence and a 2012 School Reform Blogging Fellow for RI-CAN. To feed his love of journalism and politics Rafael serves as the editor-in-chief of his school newspaper, interns for Senator Juan M. Pichardo, is co-captain of the Alvarez debate team and was recently nominated to be the school’s Hugh O’Brian Youth Ambassador.



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