Program puts young men on educational career paths

Zachary White works with 4-year-olds at Benteen Elementary as part of the Leading Men Fellowship, an innovative project that grew out of The Literacy Lab.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Zachary White works with 4-year-olds at Benteen Elementary as part of the Leading Men Fellowship, an innovative project that grew out of The Literacy Lab.

It took Zachary White one day in a classroom full of 4-year-olds to realize he’d found his calling.

“From day one, I knew I had to change from mechanical engineering to early childhood education,” said the 20-year-old. “I now know as a young, male educator of color, our impact, our representation, our presence matters. I didn’t know that before.”

White has been working with youngsters at Benteen Elementary as part of the Leading Men Fellowship, an innovative project that grew out of The Literacy Lab, a Washington, D.C.-based program that targets communities impacted by racial and/or economic disparities and puts trained tutors into classrooms from pre-K to third grade. In 2022, the program expanded that mission in Atlanta by bringing men of color aged 18 to 24 into schools and helping them explore education as a career.

The program now has 18 young men in 10 Atlanta Public School locations and sites served by the educational nonprofit Sheltering Arms. The paid fellows, high school grads who have yet to earn a bachelor’s degree, receive more than 40 hours of training in literacy and reading science, and commit to working for one year to build relationships and see progress.

Program manager Julius Cave recruits tutors from high schools and colleges, and spreads the word through community organizations and the men themselves. He then places the fellows in schools that need help raising literacy skills.

“This comes at no cost to the schools,” he said. “Our latest assessments have shown the program is doubling reading readiness. And of our last cohort of 18, 10 have positions and are staying in the field.”

Benteen Principal Andrew Lovett has seen positive results from having tutors in the school since the 2022 school year.

“I loved the idea,” said Lovett. “A lot of schools don’t have a lot of African American men, and tutors like Zachary put a fresh spin on what teaching will be like in years to come. I observed him last week, and he has such a command of the room. He’s engaging with the kids, and you can tell there’s a connection. The kids are eating up the excitement he brings.”

Along with getting real-world classroom experience, they are paid $17 an hour and get $120 a month for expenses. They can also receive $2,500 to complete their college education and spend time with coaches who give feedback and training. The tutors also participate in seminars around financial literacy, resume building and wellness. Those additional opportunities appealed to White, who took a gap year from his studies at Georgia Tech to join the program.

“I’ve networked with so many people outside the classroom that have made this a remarkable experience,” he said. “I was in academic burnout and needed a place to work, and as I got to know more about the program and the vision, I knew this is where I needed to be. Serving my community aligned with what I want to do. And it’s much more than academics; I now know our presence in the classroom really matters.”

Information about the Leading Men Fellowship is online through The Literacy Lab at theliteracylab.org.


SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.

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