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500 Black Duval County Students To Receive Mentors

Lindsey Kilbride

This year, 500 black students in Duval County will be paired with mentors.

Ten middle and high schools will participate in the “5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project,” an initiative to recruit 5,000 mentors over the course of 10 years.

Nathaniel Thomas, a 16-year-old student at Ribault High School, is one of the first teens who will be paired with a mentor.

Thomas said, “The thing that I hope changes is this gets out to the other students that need this help more than me.”

Thomas is one of the program’s ambassadors, a position he applied for so he can try to get others involved.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says what differentiates this program is the focus on black males.

“You know, we don’t talk about race,” Vitti said. “We don’t want to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable. It’s controversial.”

He said, “But in reality, we’re losing young men, specifically African American men. If we don't talk about that, then we’re not talking about the problem. If we’re not talking about a problem, then we’re not talking about a solution.”

The program began in Miami where Vitti was the Chief Academic Officer, and he says it works. He says 95 percent of students enrolled in the program stopped getting referrals and graduated high school.

Vitti says the school district will use $80,000 to fund the program this year.