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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 11, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 37
A Remarkable Partnership Sets High-Schoolers on New Path

Seventeen Dunbar students, Johns Hopkins tutors in the Incentive Mentoring Program, family and friends gather to celebrate the project's inaugural graduates.
Photo by HIPS/Will Kirk

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The School of Medicine welcomed 17 recent Dunbar High School graduates to Turner Auditorium on June 6 for a special graduation ceremony. The students all had been participants in the Incentive Mentoring Program, a project begun four years ago by Sarah Hemminger, a doctoral candidate in Biomedical Engineering.

One early January morning, Hemminger had walked over to Dunbar and, unannounced, asked to meet with the principal to discuss her desire to tutor 10 or so freshmen. Not just any students, she wanted those one step away from academic expulsion, or otherwise troubled. The next day, the school gave her 14 students for her after-class tutorial sessions. Two months later, the group's number was up to 17.

The students, after a somewhat patchy start, excelled in the tutorial program and began to not just pass their courses, but several went on to make the honors' list. All 17 graduated on time and have been accepted to colleges.

At the ceremony, each student received a framed picture with words, penned by the tutors, that described them. Officials from both Dunbar and Johns Hopkins attended the event, as well as friends and families of the students.

The Incentive Mentoring Program's mission is to foster the academic and social growth of selected students at Dunbar. Volunteers tutor the students and, in turn, the high-schoolers participate in monthly community service projects in order to build a sense of worth and social responsibility.

Hemminger started with no staff or funds, just a will to make a difference. Eventually, she enlisted some friends and colleagues to volunteer as tutors twice a week. To date, roughly 160 Johns Hopkins students, and some faculty, have been involved with the program.

To help support her efforts, Hemminger applied for and received an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, the stipend of which helped to fund the program's activities. She also secured a Community Service Grant from the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association and funds from her own department.

Hemminger said that it was tough saying goodbye to these students, who have become her friends. Yet, a new crop of 20 Dunbar students awaits her. Time to go back to square one, she said.

"Some of these new students have serious issues with drugs, and we're battling with that right now," she said. "But this time I have lots of people to help these kids, and I also have seniors to call on who can help discipline and tutor the freshmen. I certainly have more legitimacy now with these kids, as the seniors tell them they can trust me. I've never told them anything I didn't follow through on, and the older ones can back me up."


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