- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

Acton Archie was a street criminal and likely high school dropout eight years ago in North Carolina.

Now the 23-year-old graduate of North Carolina State University has a job as a business analyst for computer software firm SAS in Cary, N.C., where he makes $40,000 a year.

In ninth grade, Mr. Archie says, he was skipping school, using and selling drugs, stealing cars and “staying one step ahead of arrest and prison.”

Today, he serves a mentor and tutor for Communities in Schools (CIS), where he says he wants to help children in poverty to “stay in school and choose success.”

Mr. Archie’s father was killed when he was in the second grade. His mother sold the family’s monthly allotment of food stamps to support her crack-cocaine addiction. The main attraction at school for young Acton was the free breakfast and lunch he received each day.

One day when he was skipping class from Olympic High School, CIS site coordinator Rodney Carr came looking for him.

“He was a smooth-dressed, smooth-talking African American,” Mr. Archie told CIS supporters at a recent dinner hosted by Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. “It just took a 15-minute conversation for me to realize he cared about me. He actually made a deal with me. He said, ‘If you will fight to stay in school, I’ll fight to help you go to college.’

“Now, it’s my obligation to give back what I can, to go back to speak to children,” Mr. Archie said.

CIS is cited in a recent report by Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., as one of the country’s most effective dropout-prevention programs.

The group operates in 28 states and more than 3,000 schools. It provides adult mentors who become “big brothers and big sisters” to children and their parents to “help them with the multiple stresses of daily life, most often factors outside of school,” says Bill Milliken, who founded the organization 30 years ago in the Harlem section of New York City.

“It’s not handouts; it’s not a freebie,” says Wall Street investment executive James M. Allwin, CIS’ board chairman. “It’s just a gentle hand that so many kids need. If they don’t stay in schools, they end up on the streets; they end up in drugs. … This is not an isolated problem. It’s a challenge throughout the country.”

James Woody, CIS executive director in the District, says the stay-in-school group established a start-up program at Turner Elementary School in Southeast. Plans are under way to expand to four more D.C. schools in the fall.

“In D.C., 56 percent [of students] drop out during middle school,” he says. “What opportunity is a kid going to have that doesn’t go beyond seventh grade?”

Marsha Parker, principal at Turner Elementary, says CIS’ involvement helped to forge a partnership between the community and public schools, which need to work together for neighborhood and school improvement.

“CIS provides another layer of community support and resources,” she says. “Many of my parents are not familiar where those resources are available.”

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