Sarah Hemminger is out to save Baltimore the hard way–with the love and care of strangers.
Since founding Thread in 2004 with her husband, Ryan, the program has been surrounding failing students with mentors to support them through their high school and college years.
Selecting their students from the bottom 25 percent of their freshman class, few would expect these students to succeed. But they do.
Thread reports that 91 percent of the students in Thread for over five years graduated from high school, and 90 percent were accepted to college.
In a district where 30 percent of students fail to graduate, this success with students at the bottom quarter of their freshman class isn’t surprising. It’s astounding.
How do they create this success?
“It’s practicing change,” Hemminger states.
“We have found that the key to our young people turning into resilient self-motivated and responsible citizens is that the adults have to model that change. Success is not just defined as your student succeeding–it’s as your own growth. If we say we are going to take them to school, we have to show up and take them to school and be responsible ourselves.”
“If we want our students to not give up on themselves, we have to not give up on them. And when we show up it’s not just about showing up. It’s how we show up. Are we vulnerable, do we actually share our challenges and our burdens with them?”
“Relationships are really hard,” Hemminger intones. “They are not a quick fix, they’re messy, they take time, you have to pay attention to them and they don’t always feel great.”
But they work.
Edward Blackstone, a Thread student, said “When you walk in you have certain expectations. The sooner you let go of those expectations and accept that person for what they are, and what they define as success, then you can walk out with a better relationship for both of you.” said Blackstone.
By the time his first mentor, a white straight A student, met him, Blackstone said he had dropped out of high school and then dropped out of college. Blackstone challenged his mentor, wondering if her definition of success was more important than her love for him. It wasn’t.
“The biggest thing that (she) did for me to grow as a person is that she said, “I will not force you to go to college. If this is something that you want to do, I will help you along the way, but I will not do it for you.”
“That was the biggest motivating factor for me, because it made me get myself back in college.” Blackstone said.
The power of Thread, isn’t just academic success, but the personal and relational growth between the students and mentors as they redefine their own understandings and expectations through their care for each other.
We must remember, Hemminger says, “It is not just children living in poverty who need these deep interpersonal bonds. We all do.”
Can these supportive relationships bring together a city so long divided by race, religion and class?
We may soon find out. With a goal of mentoring five percent of the students in Baltimore High Schools, Thread is putting their audacious success onto a fast track for more.
Interested in joining?