The weekend is a welcome treat for most scholars at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge (DPBR). It is an opportunity for scholars to sleep in, watch television, play video games or just hang out with friends. The last thing on the minds of most scholars is returning to school on Saturday morning to read or do homework, unless you are a member of CHAMPS.
“CHAMPS stands for Culturally Helping and Making Positive Success,” explains educator and CHAMPS founder William Carter.
Carter, who came to DPBR as a social worker, started the CHAMPS program in the Spring of 2016, after recognizing a need to not only engage young boys at DPBR academically, but also mentally and emotionally.
“CHAMPS is about education, exposure and empowerment,” Carter said. “The point was to make sure we invested in young men who had the greatest struggle and needed special attention. This is a male empowerment program that helps them to understand how they should be thinking and carrying themselves. We want to expose them to as much as we can to people they would not organically interact with.”
Two scholars, who are part of the program, admit that prior to becoming a “CHAMP” they struggled academically which reflected in their behavior.
“Once I joined CHAMPS my grades and behavior started getting better and I started to get a lot of compliments from teachers,” 6th grader Anthony said. “I realized that I had to stop doing bad stuff because I didn’t want to repeat the sixth grade. CHAMPS made me realize I had to step up.”
Anthony is not alone in his growth. 8th grade scholar Zy’Keith, through the mentorship of the CHAMPS program, recognized the need to change.
“I don’t want to leave this school,” Zy’Keith said. “I never thought I would make it this far in life. I struggled a lot when I first got here, but now I participate in marching band, sports, and I even mentor other people in CHAMPS.”
The scholars and their mentors meet on Saturday mornings from 9:30am-1:00pm. Mentors assist scholars with their homework and host a number of special guests, who share professional, scholastic, and life lessons to motivate the scholars to pursue their dreams.
“Schools have a greater responsibility than just teaching academics,” Carter said.
“Particularly for young men in educational settings, it’s not common to have access to strong positive male role models. Having that access will enhance their ability to see the value in education.”
The program has had a number of guests, including a local chef who taught the boys how to make their own pasta.
“The chef was cool because we had to work as a team and then we got to eat at the end, that’s always fun,” Anthony said.
Carter believes exposing the CHAMPS scholars to different male role models is critical to how they see themselves.
“Gang violence and shootings are common in some of the neighborhoods, so giving our scholars something fun to do and engage their minds is critical to their success.”
In 2017, the United States Department of Justice announced it would provide federal funding to help fight crime in 12 cities, including Baton Rouge.
“In Baton Rouge, there is not much to do so either kids are outside in the neighborhood or in the house,” Carter added.” We want our CHAMPS to also have an opportunity to build key relationships in their community.”
This year the scholars befriended a Baton Rouge police officer, who changed their perception of law enforcement.
“Officer Thomas came and played football with us. We had a good football game, it was the best football game we’ve played here period,” Zy’ Keith said. “It was so fun and he was really fast! That was my first experience ever getting to know a police officer like that, before I didn’t even like being around a cop, but I feel comfortable now.”
Carter knows his time with the scholars is short, but even after scholars have gone on to high school he remains committed to maintaining contact with CHAMPS alumni to make sure they stay on the right path.
“Mentoring is something that has always been very important to me,” Carter said. “Even though some scholars are no longer with us, I still text and call, and receive texts and calls from those who participated in our program. A lot of the payoff, when investing in children, is not seen immediately, but later down the road. I have witnessed firsthand how our CHAMPS have matured and improved academically throughout the program.”