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England: African Caribbean Diversity

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Brenda King

Brenda King

On 18 December 2014, I met with Brenda King (Chief Executive) and Paul Bokel (Board Member) of the African Caribbean Diversity (ACD) charity in order for them to tell me more about the organisation and the work that it does in the field of education.

SIRIUS: Why was ACD set up?

Originally set up in the 1990s as a networking organisation for people of migrant decent working in The City, our charity soon became focused on education. We recognised the links between the underachievement of second generation children in education and the resulting difficulties they had getting into the labour market. In order to tackle this, since 2003 we have been running a Mentoring and Enrichment Programme that aims to close the attainment gap between children with a migrant background and native children, particularly for those of low-income families. Our overarching objective is to improve the social mobility of state-schooled children of African and Caribbean descent through mentoring by City workers.

SIRIUS: How does the mentoring programme work?

ACD Summer School students 2013

ACD Summer School students 2013

We choose up to 30 students aged 13-14 who have the potential to do well at school, but are currently underperforming. They are then invited to attend a week-long summer school in Cambridge where they become familiar with the programme, understand why they should believe they can aim high within education and the labour market, get training on public speaking, confidence building and other life skills such as sport and nutrition. On the fifth day, parents are invited to attend (with their costs also covered by the programme) and they are given an induction into the programme, getting the opportunity to meet the team and understanding the expectations that they can have from the programme. Very often, parents are happily surprised to see that there is already a big change in their children after just one week. Students who participated in the summer school the previous year are also invited to attend and both parents and students are generally very impressed to see that after just one year in the programme, they are already progressing very well.

They are then matched with mentors working in the City. The companies that they work for often have Corporate Social Responsibility programmes that allow them to use their time for altruistic activities such as this. We send out a communique to the companies informing them that we are looking for new mentors and then we go in and speak to them directly. They can then sign up with us and receive training on becoming a mentor. Considering the cosmopolitan nature of City workers, the mentors come from many different places and walks of life.

Mentor Matching 2014

Mentor Matching 2014

Once we have matched the students and the mentors, they meet each other in the presence of the students’ parents. This allows everyone to get to know each other, as they will generally be in touch with one another over the course of the next four year, until the students finish school, but some stay in touch long after that. The mentors are there to give career guidance to the students, which is often lacking in their schools, and they do this in their offices so that the students become accustomed to accessing large companies, dressing for the occasion and regularly travelling to meet with their mentors. For the most part, this experience is an eye-opener for the mentors into how the other half of London lives.

Over the past 10 years, we have had about 400 students in our programme, and we are now beginning to see the first mentors being trained who started off as mentees themselves, as well as a growing alumni programme that is often in further education.

SIRIUS: How do you engage with schools?

ACD trip to Brussels 2014

ACD trip to Brussels 2014

We obviously go to schools in order to recruit students, and this happens on a yearly basis, so we are generally in touch with the same schools at least every year. However, we also follow up with the schools on the progress that our mentees are making to ensure that everything is still going well. We engage with the teachers by inviting them to our events and trainings, but they don’t always have the time to attend.

The school’s general reaction to our programme is very positive as the students’ behaviour generally changes in the classroom. Seeing as they were bright but underachieving before, they were likely to be the class clown, and their new interest in learning will generally have a very positive influence on their classmates.

SIRIUS: What are ACD’s main challenges?

Our main challenge is probably keeping the students on board for all of four years. When they reach 16-17, it can be more difficult to engage with them, but we make every effort to continually organise meetings, trainings etc. so that they remain interested and focused. Additionally, they may suffer from some negative peer pressure from their peers, but we try to combat this with regular meetings with those peers that are in the mentee programme so that they can be positively motivated to stay on. Sometimes, the parents themselves can be an obstacle. Not because of language or cultural barriers – most parents are overjoyed to have such an opportunity for their children and to get to learn about the educational system in the UK. But some parents may have other issues on their plate and don’t give any follow-up to the work that we’ve been doing when at home.

Communication used to be a challenge but that has become very easy now, and the arrival of free public transport for kids in London in full time education makes costs less of an issue. Nevertheless, funding is always a struggle, especially since local authorities no longer have the responsibilities (and therefore the budget) in education that they previously had. While we are lucky to have some corporate support from the companies we work with, we look to foundations and other such organisations to help us maintain our service. We also develop partnerships with experts, such as the local police force, in order for them to inform the students about the justice system and how to keep out of criminal activities.

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