100% College Prep: Fostering successful youth in the Bayview

100% College Prep’s 16th Annual Musical Showcase has been rescheduled for the weekend of May 17-18 at Thurgood Marshall High School

by Laura Savage

For students in Bayview Hunters Point, life can be a challenge. There are territories to know not to wander into, there are people out there who don’t want youth to make it, there are temptations everywhere, but through all of this, community organizations by neighborhood residents still emerge.

College-Prep-bldg-students-staff-on-steps, 100% College Prep: Fostering successful youth in the Bayview, Culture Currents One of these organizations, 100% College Prep, has a mission to see its local students go to college by providing a second home with mentors, academic advisors and allies. Diane Gray and Jacqueline Cohen, its founders, know what it takes first-hand to make it through. Both are from the Bayview and raised their kids here, as well.

“[Bayview’s] not a dangerous place, but there’s definitely some situations I could get into,” says Tatiana Torrence, a 13-year-old eighth-grader in the program. “I feel like 100% is a safe place. Like with my brother, my brother came here before me and they helped him go to a university. I feel like they can help me, too.”

“I want them to see that there is more to life than what they’re seeing in the Bayview,” says Jacqueline Cohen, assistant director and co-founder.

She admits that they can’t do it all at 100%, but with parents, teachers and 100% staff, she feels these youth have a better chance at getting out of high school and into college.

“We need to be accountable to the generations coming up,” says Cohen. “Sometimes we give our kids false expectations. We don’t give our kids consequences about bad decisions they make. There ought to be consequences for failing classes and rewards for stellar grades. 100% tries to do that.”

The organization provides a second home with staff and volunteers who care about the students and whether they succeed.

“There ought to be consequences for failing classes and rewards for stellar grades. 100% tries to do that.”

“We have a very grassroots kind of family atmosphere that works for our children,” says Diane Gray, co-founder. “We are the first to say that our program doesn’t work for everyone.”

The students keep coming

For students who are in need of a second family that is inviting, safe and focused on college preparation, it is working very well. Cohen and Gray want the students at 100% to be exposed to opportunity and know that people from their community care about their future and are willing to invest in young people. Cohen refers to these people as “local heroes.”

“Our intention was to find resources in the community to serve their needs,” says Cohen.

After 15 years and with 100% still going strong, the kids keep coming back. Tachelle Herron-Lane feels the reason is because staff “are extremely patient, and that’s what keeps them coming.”

“As soon as I walked in,” says Tachelle, “I felt a family atmosphere.” Lane is the current program manager for 100% College Prep and a former volunteer.

College-Prep-wall-of-fame-pictures-of-graduates-by-Laura-Savage, 100% College Prep: Fostering successful youth in the Bayview, Culture Currents The program offers programs for students Tuesdays through Thursdays with an added “Exposure Fridays” on the third Fridays of the month. The main programs consist of academic coaching and mentoring. Exposure Fridays is a way for student participants to explore their community or other communities with 100% staff.

“They really want to leave their community, but they have very few resources because of their working parents or a lack of [funds],” says Herron-Lane.

In addition to daily programs, staff provide incentives to students for making stellar grades – it is after all a college prep program. The incentives give students something to work for other than their grades. Incentives include local trips, money and national college tours during the spring each year.

“I like the atmosphere; I felt like it was a family atmosphere,” says Jason Phillips, 24, middle school and high school academic coach who has been working at 100% for two years and is a former participant who started in ninth grade. “A lot of the people I grew up with were always really close. It was easy to come around and do your homework. The tutors were easy to get along with and were very helpful.

“I’ve always been big on giving back to the community, so I definitely took the opportunity to come work here when I could come back and work here.”

Phillips is a junior at San Francisco State University majoring in broadcasting with an emphasis on video.

“As an academic coach, I focus on the A-G requirements, all the core requirements that students focus on in middle school and high school – math, science, English, history etc.,” says Phillips. “Every tutor has a certain amount of students. I average about four or five students per day.”

“I’ve always been big on giving back to the community, so I definitely took the opportunity to come work here when I could come back and work here.”

Derrick Lamar McWhorter II, 15, is a ninth-grader at Abraham Lincoln High and a youth worker through Men’s Youth Education and Employment Program (MYEEP). Through his job working at 100% College Prep, he’s learned a few things.

“I learned that I need to keep my grades up, need to get into any type of program that involves college or get into a program that can get me a scholarship that can pay for college,” says McWhorter.

Oftentimes African American kids in this neighborhood are tracked to lower level classes in SFUSD. Not only must they deal with the institutionalized racism, but they must cope with their sometimes toxic environment too. The staff at 100% College Prep know this first hand, and that’s why they provide students with tutoring, mentoring from positive role models, a hot dinner – which some kids don’t get at home – and open hearts and ears for all who need it.

“Our schools don’t have the same resources,” says Cohen. “A lot of our parents are barely surviving. I fought more in my community because I felt like my community needed more support.”

College-Prep-program-coordinator-Tachelle-Herron-Lane-in-middle-school-study-tutoring-rooms-3rd-floor-by-Laura-Sava, 100% College Prep: Fostering successful youth in the Bayview, Culture Currents “I go to school in Twin Peaks,” says eighth-grader Tatiana Torrence. “It’s a big difference. My school has a lot of races, but I’m the only Black girl in the whole grade. I go to one of the top schools in the district. We have one of the longest waiting lists. I was lucky to get in because I came in in third grade. I mean, it’s a whole different mentality.”

One reason some students come to 100% College Prep instead of College Track is because 100% College Prep takes students as early as sixth grade. Students who choose College Track must wait until high school and have to apply for the program.

Torrence hopes to study child psychology and become an attorney. She’s well on her way.

“My mom says take it seriously, because there’s not a lot of programs like this in the Bayview. I have to take it seriously because [I am from] a single-parent household. I don’t have those other options like other people. I have to do stuff like this for scholarships. I have to take it really seriously.”

“We’ve been doing this for 15 years,” says Gray. “We’re very proud of the work that we’ve done. Even though this is our 15th year, we’ve actually been intentionally working with smaller groups.”

“A successful program and successful parents are about a one-to-one relationship,” according to Cohen. “Some parents will come because they knew I was out there fighting for their kid. They knew Diane was out there fighting for their kid. When we ask them to do something, they would do that.”

Cohen says, “It’s an investment when you work with your kids.”

Investing in The Next Generation

At 100% College Prep, staff, volunteers and parents make human investments. They invest time, and some invest their own money to give incentives to students working hard. They are there to give advice about personal relationships and to remind them why the students are working hard and making the sacrifices.

“Once you get into high school, you should start thinking about college, because once you get in your senior year and you’re not thinking about it, you’ll be all stressed out,” says 15-year-old McWhorter. “It’s better to start thinking about it as soon as you get into high school.”

College-Prep-parent-volunteer-Ross-Rose-cooks-dinner-daily-by-Laura-Savage, 100% College Prep: Fostering successful youth in the Bayview, Culture Currents Nearly two thirds of the staff and volunteers are male because Cohen and Gray believe that young Black males in Bayview need positive role models.

“They don’t have positive Black male role models,” says Cohen. “I don’t know what’s going on with [this] generation. They are like immune to everything [the killing]. They don’t have any hope, it’s like they lost hope.”

100% seeks to change that by showing another way into a successful future by working on the whole student, not just the academics.

“We’re not just a program; we’re a family.”

“I just enjoy working with the students,” says academic coach Jason Phillips, once a student at 100%. “I feel like we can learn from the youth, as well as the youth can learn something. They always need someone that is positive around them. What’s a better way than to give back to help them with academics? Try to show them that there are people out there that’s actually striving, who look just like them that are trying to do well in the community and in life. Give them motivation.

“I got tired of hearing about young African-American kids getting shot. If I can save one, that matters to me,” says Cohen, commenting on why she still gives her time. She has a full time job outside of 100% and volunteers her time to help run the program.

100% College Prep is not an organization that gives up on Bayview youth or those from other communities. The staff are big on second chances and building students up so they reach their untapped potential. By exposing students to a variety of colleges, Cohen and Gray hope to open their students’ eyes. It’s never too late to get on the right track.

“That’s why I’m big on HBCUs, because they give you a second chance. They give you a chance to change your path.”

“Other than the family feel, a lot of exposure was good,” says Phillips. “They took us on college tours. We went to CSUs as well as UCs. We went to HBCUs. We also do this talent showcase to fundraise money where we perform to oldschool music. That was something I always enjoyed doing. I was in the show for several years.”

Musical showcase

The 16th Annual Musical Showcase is a lip-syncing showcase geared to celebrate oldies music. Performances in the past have featured Tina Turner, The Platters and Temptations.

This year’s showcase highlights local heroes. The idea is to show “even the smallest thing you can do for a kid is worth doing.”

This year’s showcase has been rescheduled to Saturday-Sunday, May 17-18, at Thurgood Marshall High School. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door and can be purchased online at www.bay100cpi.org or at 415-550-9455.

This year’s showcase takes place May 17-18 at Thurgood Marshall High School. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door and can be purchased online at www.bay100cpi.org or at 415-550-9455.

The showcase serves as a fundraiser for the program and to take students on the annual spring college tour. This year’s tour is to visit HBCUs in Louisiana and Mississippi. Cohen and Gray have arrangements with each college they visit allowing students on the tour to receive a waiver toward application costs for that university – no matter what grade attendees are. The waiver is good until they are able to apply.

The cost for each student to attend the college tour is $1,150. The money raised from the showcase will be used to help offset some costs for needy students to attend the college tour.

“It’s not what somebody else can give us, but the small things we can do ourselves to make our community better,” says Cohen.

“They build a bond here. They always consider themselves a part of 100%!”

Lasting relationships

Phillips has fond memories of his time as a student participant in the program, which “always instilled hard work. This is a program that they (Gray and Cohen) started from the ground up. They actually believed in this program, and you can see it. Regardless of what day it was you’d see them here.

College-Prep-Code-of-Conduct-by-Laura-Savage, 100% College Prep: Fostering successful youth in the Bayview, Culture Currents “They try to get to know the kids, all of the academic coaches. It really showed. It gave you a sense of pride and value in the program. Just seeing them try to help kids from the Bayview and all the different neighborhoods by promoting college – that’s something you don’t always see people trying to do.

“Whether they went to college or not, they were exposed to college. Nine out of ten of us went the college route. Some went the trade route, but we went either to a two- or four-year college. So I feel that that was something that was very beneficial of going through the program.”

“We have some very successful young people who have gotten their degrees,” says Gray.

“It’s a better option because it’s a safe place, a friendly environment,” says Torrence. “Kids are going to have their moments, but generally when I come here, I just feel loved. At times when I’m going through something, it just brings a smile to my face.

“They help me with a lot of things. They help me with my homework; they help me with my personal life. Whenever I need somebody to talk to, they’re always here. This is like my second home.”

As for those who’ve yet to check out 100% College Prep or are contemplating working in the community, Phillips has words of advice.

“Remember that you’re not better than anybody. Everybody is equal. Remember you came from the same situation. Had no one been there to help you out, you probably wouldn’t be in the circumstances you’re in.

“So it never hurts to be the person or investor to give back and hopefully motivate somebody, reach out and save somebody to get them to the next level. You never know who is looking up to you and needs the extra push or extra help. Always remember there are people less fortunate than us and be willing to help no matter what the circumstance is.”

“We’re still getting kids into college,” says Cohen. “We are making a difference in kids’ lives. Some of them can go either way. They’re making the choice to go the right way.”

Laura Savage is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. She can be reached at lsavage26@gmail.com.