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At-Risk Teens Find Success As Edward Waters College 'Explorers'

Edward Waters College

This summer, middle and high-school students are filling dorms and desks at Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College.

The teens are part of what’s called the Black Male College Explorers for teen boys who are considered at-risk.


The program started on the Florida A&M campus in the 1990s. This year at Edward Waters, about 45 teenagers are enrolled.

Each day the kids go to four classes in the morning: science, technology, engineering and math.

After class they’ll eat lunch and go to work. They’re all given a campus job with pay. That’s followed by recreation time and then what’s called “real talk” with mentors. Five days a week, the teens live in the college’s dorms.

Ranita Brooks is the assistant director of the program. She says at-risk can mean “your mother might think you’re at risk because you’re not making your bed in an orderly fashion.”

But it can also mean “one of these 46 gangs that we have in Jacksonville will take them in. They’re collecting our children by the busloads.”

Brooks says the program sets the bar high for these kids, and it’s been working. She says for the past two years, all of kids coming out of the program have gone to college. For five years, they’ve all graduated high school.

She says that although the program is strict, the people running College Explorers are young and relatable.

Eric Jackson went through the program himself, and he now teaches their math class. He says sometimes he takes the students to the basketball court to learn percentages and angles.  

The accessible staff is a big part of why 17-year-old Demetri Carbonell says he’s happy to return to College Explorers for a second summer.

“I feel like I’ve made a 180 degree turn since last year to this year,” Carbonell said.  “I’ve just become a better person because before I didn’t really care about other people or myself or what I was doing.”

He says a year ago he was angry and didn’t take responsibility for his actions, but now he makes A’s and B’s.

Ultimately he says he wants to have a job in forensic science and going to college is non-negotiable.