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Charlene Brown-McKenzie is looking for stand-out mentors to help her expand the program.
This program's achievements—recently recognized by a sizeable infusion of funds from a private donor—are largely due to the two inspired and tireless people who run it: Tom Bullock and Charlene Brown-McKenzie.
Bullock, who took the reins of the program in 1993 and revamped it in 1995, researched best practices for creating an environment where low-income minority students could succeed. He designed a model marked by small-group learning and students' one-on-one relationships with their teachers. He was able to sell its merits to Georgetown and HHMI, tacking the program onto a broader Georgetown undergraduate science-education grant proposal to HHMI, which has been a source of support ever since.
Wanting to reach children from a D.C. neighborhood with great need, Bullock chose Ward 7. He worked with teachers at Ronald H. Brown Middle School to identify students who could benefit most and to figure out how best to complement the D.C. Public School curriculum. Each cohort of students remains a unit from 7th through 12th grade, which helps create a caring, family-like atmosphere.
Based on his thesis that good math and science students are generally good students all around, Bullock drafted a six-year math and science curriculum that also includes language arts, enrichment classes, and other educational benefits. For example, he brought in a dance instructor to teach the anatomy of the human muscular system and a vocal coach for students to study the physiology of the human larynx—and to instruct and indulge the students in singing.
He has also packed their Saturdays and summers full. In the summer before 9th grade, they fly to New York City to see a Broadway play. Before 10th grade, the program pays for students to study abroad—groups have traveled to Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. The following summer, students take college-level classes while living in Georgetown dormitories. Before 12th grade, they visit colleges around the country and begin applying to schools. The summer before college, students can take extra classes they might need before starting the main event.
Although Bullock is most proud of the program's ability to get these kids into college, one of its goals is to increase the students' interest in biomedical sciences, which is a work in progress. “We have increased the number of students who have gone into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields over the years by continually improving the experiences and working more closely with the schools and families,” Bullock says. “One of our students, Britney McCoy, has achieved great success in the sciences.” She is now studying for her Ph.D. in engineering and public policy with a concentration in environmental management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Photo: Hector Emanuel