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Curtis Alston is a man with a mission: He wants young males from troubled environments to overcome their academic and social struggles to realize their dreams. Gentlemen on a Mission, the school-based mentoring program he first proposed in 2006 to offer positive role models for these boys, is both Alston’s passion and the focus of his Walden University doctoral research.
“This topic is dear to me because I grew up in a single-parent household where we lived in poverty, and the streets of Boston were pretty rough,” explains Alston, the assistant principal of Lexington Park Elementary School in St. Mary’s County, Md., who will receive his Walden University Doctor of Education (EdD) in 2013. “When I was a young grade-school student, a teacher told me that because I was African American and male, I should forget my dreams, that I probably wouldn’t finish high school and would likely end up in jail. That motivated me. I began to surround myself with positive male role models. Since then, I’ve been driven.”
When he became a teacher at a middle school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Alston worked with his principal to transform his idea of a mentoring program into reality. As he moved to other Maryland elementary schools and into administration, Alston launched additional chapters.
Boys now clamor to join Gentlemen on a Mission, and Oprah Winfrey highlighted it on her show. The original chapter has a waiting list, and the program is growing to serve boys as they move into middle school and high school. Participants include a diverse group of students and mentors, not only African Americans.
“We’re providing positive role models and guidance for the boys. These are the kids who act out, disrupt class, and assert their will on others. They have influence but don’t know what to do with their natural leadership qualities,” says Alston. “We give them leadership positions, and the response from other students makes them feel important. We also require community service, so the positive behavior extends into the community.”
Another aspect of the program involves reading a nonfiction book based on the life of an African American who overcame obstacles in life to achieve success. Alston pointed to one of these books—The Pact, the story of three Newark, N.J., boys who vowed to help each other stay out of trouble and fulfill their dreams of becoming doctors—in the webinar he recently presented as part of Walden’s Black History Month celebration.
“The program is an extension of the school curriculum that’s based on male brain development and how boys learn. The results show in the reduction in office referrals and increase in academic performance,” Alston says.
Alston is sharing the positive results with other educators to encourage creation of more school-based mentoring programs. He also continues to stress what he considers his most important message for young men growing up in circumstances like his own: Despite the odds against them, people do not have to become a product of their environments.