Last fall, a Howard University sophomore was fielding dozens of phone calls between midnight and 3 a.m. from seniors at Brooklyn College Academy.
The young men had a million questions about applying to college, and as a leader of the Sophisticated Well Articulated Gentlemen’s Group (SWAGG) to which they all belong, Jude Bridgewater had pledged to always answer their calls.
Bridgewater, 20, says one of his best days of the year came this spring when a member named Turel Polite, who had clashed early and often with high school administrators, was accepted into his top-choice college – the Academy of Art University in California. Polite credits high school staff members who stayed on his case, and the close-knit network of SWAGG.
“This is a family to me, I can’t look at it any other way,” says Polite, 18, who graduated in June and will be the first male in his family to go to college. “These are my brothers, and every day I come to school, whether I’m feeling good or not … they’ve kept me from doing a lot of things which would have prevented from being here today.”
Brooklyn College Academy has ushered many students like Bridgewater and Polite successfully through high school: 100 percent of the school’s black students graduated on time last year, and almost all of them went on to four-year colleges. In contrast, the overall graduation rate for black male students in New York City was 58 percent in 2014.
School officials say their model is replicable – but only in schools where the adults are willing to pay relentless attention and to hold the students to consistently high expectations.
The secret to the school’s success is not simply which students they pick, administrators say (although they do get to choose – last year 2,800 students applied for 150 seats), but an unremitting and personalized focus on each individual. The understanding that the students come with challenges and unmet needs enabled SWAGG’s creation. It was founded by students who were searching for realistic pathways through the social land mines in their neighborhoods, and for older boys like themselves to learn from and emulate. More than a third of the 56 male students in this year’s senior class were members of SWAGG this year, and school administrators credit its alumni network and leaders for helping to guide an important group of students.