Boss Up: College Scholars Explore Careers Paths at Annual Summit

Getting into college is tough. Staying in can be even harder. And adulting? It can be downright stressful, even under the best of circumstances.

That’s why East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) launched College Scholars in 2012 — to provide students with the support and resources to successfully navigate the complexities of higher education and beyond. A program highlight: our full-day Summit held annually in January. An opportunity to reconnect with fellow students and attend sessions designed to support their learning, Summit exposes our scholars to the possibilities that await them.

“We may be ‘Community Based. College Bound,’ but we want to ensure that we also open doors for our scholars,” said Vynessa Ortz, director of College Access and Success. “Summit is designed with the future in mind.”

This year, scholars attended workshops focusing on career, social justice, and health and wellness, receiving guidance on real-world situations — from applying to graduate school, to developing personal elevator pitches, to discussing how to safely exercise their rights as students of color interfacing with law enforcement.

And to ensure that our young women scholars can learn from role models who are forging the way and breaking the glass ceiling, EHTP held its 2nd Annual Be a Boss panel and networking session. Because while many of us proudly proclaim that the Future is Female, EHTP also recognizes that the job marketplace hasn’t necessarily gotten the memo.

Scholars joined women industry leaders to discuss charting their paths in the professional world. Panelists Esther Mireya Tejeda of Entercom, Rosemonde Pierre-Louis of NYU’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, and Nicole Davison Fox of Summit Rock Advisors, fielded questions from Leslie Ortiz, an EHTP alumna with Aya Healthcare.

Panelists described various avenues that scholars can take after college, followed by “speed dating” networking sessions with more than 30 professionals representing the fields of entertainment, law, business, the nonprofit sector and more. “This event is a perfect opportunity for our young women to see themselves in executive roles and as industry leaders,” said Vynessa Ortiz.

Jocelyn Roman, one of our College Scholars, agrees. “EHTP showed us so many career possibilities, and the fact that we met female professionals was even better. I’m passionate about women’s rights, and it gives me joy that other women are succeeding, that not only men can do these things.” Roman, who did some serious networking and has an upcoming informational interview with one of the professionals in attendance, noted, “A lot of these women are really powerful, and it meant a lot that they made the time to talk to us.”

What else did the scholars learn from these boss ladies? A lot. And for those students who feel less than sure about where they will land after graduation, there was a reassuring message:
It’s ok to shift course.

“I actually wanted to be Diana Ross,” said Pierre-Louis.”From the time I was a young girl, I had been signing, dancing. I really thought my entire life that I was going to be on Broadway.” At the same time, “I always wanted to be at the adult table talking about politics and social justice. … Being able to pursue multiple things … was one of the best things about college. Sometimes you go in thinking you’re going to be one thing and come out something completely different.”

Fox added that there “was a moment in my career where I was in the job I went to grad school to get. It looked good on my resume, but I was not feeling excited to get up in the morning to go to work.” She reassessed, then created the career that she wanted. Tejeda concurred, and said for her, “it wasn’t a straight path.”

The group also got down to brass tacks with some practical advice.“One of the biggest challenges that I have routinely with the younger professionals … is that they have an understanding of the job that is not the actual job,” said Tejeda. “Get as much actual experience doing the work. Intern, volunteer, go for informationals, meet people who do this work. Really understand the industry so you know what you’re getting yourself into.”


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Meet Our Star Scholar: Kennadie M!

Kennadie is a 7th grader at East Harlem Scholars Academy Middle School II, located in the historic Jackie Robinson Educational Complex. Why is Kennadie this month’s star scholar? She’s not afraid of a challenge, and represents our Core Values — especially Courage, Originality and Achievement!

Q: What is your favorite thing about coming to school?

A: My favorite part is the work, because the work is challenging. …All of the kids are participating. They’re really engaged in the lessons and they’re showing what they know.

Q: Any ideas of what you want to be when you grow up?

A: I want to be a teacher. I want to help out kids like my teachers do, and I want to see kids succeed like I want to succeed. I’m really bad at math, but I want to learn so I can teach other kids.

Q: What do you like to do outside of school?

A: I like to do sports. I like to play football, because it’s challenging. I like to go for things that are challenging … so when I get older I know how face tough situations.

Q: And what’s challenging about football?

A: I feel like I get judged a lot by playing football. Like if I’m on the train I see people staring because [I’m a girl and] I have a football in my hand. But I think that it’s good for me because it toughens me up and helps me have the right mindset for the future.

Q: What else do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I like to hang out with my friends, we go out to Popeye’s and McDonalds. We see other kids from Scholars I and Scholars II, we go together. I also like dancing, and I like to draw and do art.

Q: You recently joined our student recruitment campaign. Why do you think other kids should come here?

A: The teachers actually care about your education and want you to succeed. They put in the time and the effort. … it’s way different than other schools that I’ve been to. This is not only preparing me for high school and college, it’s preparing me for the real world too.

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College Scholars Celebrate Successes at Annual Dinner

Every November our College Scholars are greeted by their own cheerleading squad — the staff and mentors at East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP), who are on hand to help them navigate college and the challenges it can present. This time, when they returned from school for the Thanksgiving break, they were greeted by a basketball legend as well.

Last night, NBA All-Star Charles Oakley joined EHTP’s annual welcome home dinner to celebrate our College Scholars’ accomplishments and encourage them as they head into finals. And he cooked the meal to boot! The New York Knicks top rebounder, who in retirement has become a renowned chef, whipped up a feast including turkey meatballs, mac and cheese, broccoli and bread pudding, to kick off Thanksgiving week.

In this season of gratitude, he also encouraged our College Scholars to remember those who gave them their start: “All your parents want you to do is go to school, stay dedicated, get a degree, stay grounded … they put the hard work in. Show them, ‘Hey, I’m going to carry that torch for the rest of life and make sure you’re ok’.”

What did our College Scholars think of our celebrity chef? Ambar Brito, who is earning her Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts Management, had this to say: “I think it’s really cool to have somebody go from a basketball career to cook, because it’s not easy to do.” She added that coming to the annual event “makes me feel like I’m at home.” “I’ve been a part of EHTP since I was in the second grade,” she explained. “It’s fun to come here, break from school and see all the familiar faces.”

EHTP’s College Scholars program, launched in 2012, provides students the support and resources to successfully navigate the complexities of higher education. Scholars have access to academic and career advising, tutoring, annual scholarships and assistance with securing internships, managing personal finances and navigating the financial aid process.

Together our dedicated staff and students experience some great outcomes: our Scholars graduate four-year colleges at eight times the national rate of students from lower-income households. As they discover their paths, we are thankful to be part of their journey.

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Nothing But Net! Corporate Challenge Raises $200,000 for EHTP Programming

Excitement ran high Friday night as EHTP held its 7th annual 3-on-3 Corporate Challenge basketball tournament in partnership with Blackstone. Twenty teams participated to bolster programming that supports our scholars as they get to and through college. It was one of our most successful basketball tournaments to date, bringing in $200,000!

Though our scholars are the real winners, Cortec Group held onto their championship title for the second year, beating Mission Staffing. There was also a silent auction, with the victor receiving a signed basketball from NY Knicks Center Mitchell Robinson. View event photos here!

Following the energetic round robin, players joined EHTP at Stone Creek for post-game food and drinks where they learned more about supporting an organization that is community-based, college bound, and built on an anti-racist foundation.

A huge thank you to Blackstone and to all of our sponsors! We look forward to seeing everyone on the courts next year!


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Showing our Scholars the Power of ‘Yes’

Meet Arisleidy Fuchu! A founding member of our East Harlem Scholars Academy High School, Fuchu manages its Restorative Justice Program —  which puts the school’s philosophy of “Love. Liberate. Heal” into practice. The concept of restorative justice may be new to some, so Fuchu breaks it down in the final installment of our Latinx Heritage Month blog series: 

“Restorative justice invites everyone to develop a shared understanding of both the root causes and the effects of a conflict. It seeks to address the needs of those who have been harmed, while encouraging those who have caused harm to take responsibility,” she explains. While schools traditionally have handled “bad” behavior with some type of punishment, “restorative justice emphasizes the capacity of all people for healing, growth, and transformation through accountability, self-determination, and interconnection.”

Fuchu says her identity as an Afro-Dominican woman informs her work. “I grew up often hearing the word ‘no,’ with very few ‘yeses.’ My accent was too thick for debate class in 4th grade. Since Spanish was my first language, it was assumed I could not produce an essay on par with my peers. But I had parents who advocated and fought for me and my siblings to be treated with respect. They taught me the power of ‘yes’ without making apologies for who I am.” 

And this is exactly what she wants for her students. “I want our scholars to know the power of ‘yes,’ of being loved for who they are. The power of forgiveness, compassion, humility, strength. The power of visibility and knowledge, to stand in their truth and light.” 

Fuchu’s goal is to create a space where students feel heard and respected. “I think it is important to remember that these are kids and they will make mistakes. The idea is to always have a reset — a new beginning where they are not judged by their past, but by how they choose to show up.” If Love. Liberate. Heal is at the core of our anti-racism framework, she notes, it is up to the school leadership to demonstrate what this looks, feels and sounds like. 

It is in doing so, says Fuchu, that we can challenge the status quo. “We cannot educate from a place of mediocrity,” she says. “We have to believe that our scholars deserve more because of their humanity. No one has the right to take that from them.” If education is our liberating tool, she says, “then it is the way to uphold, uplift and love the people they choose to be.” 

For her, this parallels the significance of Latinx Heritage Month. “It is a celebration of my heritage, my people, our struggle. It is a recognition of the historical triumphs and obstacles we have overcome as people. … It is a celebration of the beauty, the complexity — an honoring of nuestra gente y cultural.” 

She adds, “I was raised with a deep pride in my culture and my people. In Latinx culture there is a song for everything — we are people who love and thrive through the rhythm of our music. There is nothing like mami’s sazon to make me happy.  I bring to work my love of music, my warmth, my laughter, my deep sense of social justice — all to ensure that our scholars are respected and loved.”


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Efrain Guerrero: ‘I Try to Live My Life Full of Gratitude’

Efrain Guerrero has been Chief of Staff at East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) for over three years, partnering with stakeholders across the community to advance our strategic plan. He began his foray into education as Achievement First Bushwick Middle School’s Director of School Operations.

As part of EHTP’s Latinx Heritage Month blog series, we caught up with Guererro to learn why he is passionate about working in education.

It turns out that his educational success wasn’t necessarily preordained. “My parents both grew up poor, in a rural part of Mexico, my mom with 10 siblings and my dad with 12,” he explains. “Neither of them finished high school. My dad dropped out as early as middle school to find work so he could help support his family.”

Guerrero and his three siblings were born and raised in Long Beach, California, his parents having decided that moving to the U.S. would provide a better future. “I can’t imagine the courage that it took for them to leave their home and family in Mexico, leaving behind everything and everyone they knew and loved.” Guerrero adds, “I try to live my life full of gratitude for the sacrifices they made.”

While Guerrero earned degrees at Harvard University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, attaining education proved to be more elusive for his siblings. He says that only recently, because of the anti-racism professional development at EHTP, has he been able to reflect on what happened to his siblings and other teenagers in his Latinx community who never graduated from high school.

“Our parents did not realize that they were moving to a country that was founded on racism and white supremacy. …they didn’t know about the achievement gap, about the vast inequality in life outcomes that exists between people of color and white people. They didn’t come prepared knowing that the forces of institutional racism and the negative effects of living in poverty in this country would be nearly impossible to overcome.”

What made the difference for Guerrero? “I was in middle school when I first came to the realization that I was gay, and I knew that my parents, having grown up Catholic and who were very traditional, would never fully accept me. Being good at school was a way to overcompensate for this lack of acceptance and win my parents approval.”

Guerrero went on to become his high school valedictorian, graduating with a 4.0 GPA, having passed 9 AP exams, rocking his SAT’s and serving as Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook. When he applied early admission to Harvard, he got in.

Fast forward, and his expansive career has included market research at Proctor & Gamble and fundraising for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). He lives with his partner James and their pug Mrs. Carter (named for — and sometimes dressed up as — Beyoncé), and is the biological father of two girls who live with their moms in Philadelphia. While it is a full and satisfying life, Guerrero remains driven by his passion for educational equality:

“I wish that all Latinx and black parents could have that sense of certainty about their kids’ futures. They should have that same sense of entitlement to the American Dream that white parents and their children enjoy. But the reality is that for immigrants and people of color in this country, the American Dream is a myth. Working hard, paying taxes, and doing the right thing every day is not enough for people of color to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’.”

Reflecting on the importance of Latinx Heritage Month, Guerrero makes this assertion: “This racial inequality and injustice is something that we can’t continue to tolerate.”


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‘I Want Children to Feel Invincible’

As we kick off our Latinx Heritage Month blog series, we’re shining a light on Lissette Zurita! Part of our current cohort of East Harlem Teaching Residents, Lissette divides her time between EHTP, our Scholars Elementary II charter school, our elementary after-school program and the Hunter College School of Education. Though very busy, we were able to grab this East Harlem native to learn how we had the good fortune to recruit her to our team.

“What captivated me most about the Teaching Residency is its focus on East Harlem,” she says. “I am very passionate about seeing change in my community; as a Latinx teacher, I feel the need to empower scholars and ignite their critical thinking skills. I want them to start questioning their surroundings in order to fight against racist norms they see in their community.” In short: “ I want children to feel invincible.”

Zurita became a teacher because of deep-seated concerns over the low educational standards for children of color. Growing up, she witnessed power struggles between teachers and students; the teachers’ failed attempts at maintaining control only led to her peers feeling enraged and disconnected. This will not happen in Zurita’s classroom. “I want to inspire my students to think that their goals are attainable, and therefore seek to best prepare them for the future,” she says.

Although Zurita says celebrating Latinx Heritage Month is “extremely fulfilling,” she didn’t always embrace who she is. “For a long period of time I used to compare myself to my white counterparts and think of myself as less,” she says. “I idolized Eurocentric features and wanted to assimilate to the American lifestyle. I look back and it still saddens me … Today, I am proud of my Mexican roots and the traditions that are held within my culture and my household.”

These traditions were reinforced as she grew up in a loving home with her parents, four siblings — and tamales at every celebration. A graduate of Lehman College, where she got her bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Zurita takes the time for non-academic pursuits. Although she jokes that she’s no professional, Lissette enjoys to dance! To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, she challenges everyone to try her favorite Mexican dish: Pozole.

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East Harlem Heroes Day Our EHTP ‘Family’ Keeps Growing!

The rich legacy of El Barrio can be felt at East Harlem Scholars Academies through a tradition that was started eight years ago. East Harlem Heroes Day was created to pay homage to the individuals who have made an impact in the community and serve as role models for the students who will become the next generation of change-makers.

This year’s honorees included Francheska ‘Hey Fran Hey’ Medina, wellness advocate; Adrienne Alverio, EHTP alum and founder of Red Carpet Curls; Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court; James Baldwin, renowned novelist, playwright and activist; Evlina López Antonetty, civil rights activist; Nicholasa Mohr, children’s book author; Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road NY and Eric Velasquez, children’s book author.

These Heroes joined an impressive roster of their peers and predecessors — among the 43 include renowned writers, artists and activists the likes of Maya Angelou, Julia de Burgos, Celia Cruz, Langston Hughes, Tito Puente, Hiram Maristany and more. As scholars celebrated Heroes in the classrooms named in their honor, the Heroes had the chance to ignite the curiosity and imagination of our youth, and inspire them to strive for the best.

Maristany, a master photographer whose Smithsonian collection documents scenes of East Harlem life, described efforts to capture some of his most well-known images and urged scholars in his classroom to take advantage of their education: “Use this time well. Dream big. Work hard. And try your best to do your best.”

There’s nothing like building love through a network of individuals who are committed to our scholar’s educational and personal growth. As our Heroes joined scholars at Community Circle, and walked the halls of our elementary, middle and newly-opened high school, they had a chance to share their personal journeys with scholars.

Medina, a Harlem-based voice of conscious day-to-day living, advised the 9th graders on how to be successful and navigate the world: “No one has gone through what you’ve gone through or can share your story the way in which you can. Your story is your energy signature and it’s your responsibility to share it authentically.”

Trevor Baldwin, nephew of James Baldwin, answered thoughtful questions from high schoolers who read his uncle’s “The Fire Next Time”: “I’m always proud to represent my Uncle Jimmy and being with you today, let’s me know his legacy continues. I’m so inspired by your school’s motto, ‘Love, Liberate, Heal,’ and cannot wait to see how you will carry the torch to transform our communities.”

We’d like to welcome our 2019 Heroes to the EHTP fold, and to a community that is much richer than the sum of its parts. As Hero Orlando Ortiz put it, EHTP means one thing: “Mi familia.”

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Star Scholar

Shaylynn, 14, may have just started a new school, but she is no stranger to the East Harlem Scholars family. A student who joined East Harlem Scholars Elementary in first grade, the 9th grader shares her feelings and hopes about the new year:

EHTP: You’ve been with us a while! How was the move up to high school? 

Shaylynn:  It was amazing and so exciting. I like having each class with scholars who came from other middle schools and meeting unique people. I also like having houses and being more hands-on in building hobbies and clubs.

EHTP:  What is your favorite thing about school?

Shaylynn: My favorite thing is receiving an education and getting to know new teachers and students. Going to school is one thing I know can make me successful. I want to pass each class with an average of 80 percent or higher and make it to honor roll each semester.

EHTP:  What does Love, Liberate, Heal mean to you? 

Shaylynn:  When I first heard Love, Liberate, Heal, it made me feel safe to be in my community. Those three words gave me hope that we can make things better, on our terms, with our behavior, and through our mindset. We strive to help one another, not only inside our school but outside in our community.

EHTP:  Tell us one fun fact about you.

Shaylynn:  I like to play a lot of sports — basketball, soccer, volleyball and softball — and do  activities with friends, but when I am in a quiet place alone, I like to read and draw.

EHTP:  Any advice?

Shaylynn:  Don’t listen to what other people have to say. Love yourself and love who you are. At the end of the day it’s your mind and your body; hold yourself to your highest standards and don’t let anyone create obstacles for you; God has built you to overcome and power through.


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Back to School — But More Than Business as Usual

I am amazing. I am powerful. I am ENOUGH.

These words aren’t from a teen self-help book, or an X-Men movie. They are, however, part of the narrative that will inform the coming-of-age story of our own 9th grade super heroes. As we closed out the first official week at East Harlem Scholars Academy High, the school philosophy of “Love. Liberate. Heal.” imbued every space. For the school, it is much more than a slogan — it is the words from which every interaction is formed.

“Thinking about people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thinking about the civil rights movement, I don’t believe that any large task can get done without self-love, community love …. love to me is the root of everything,” said Tammy Myers, founding principal of East Harlem Scholars Academy High School. “In order to grow, it is the seeds, the roots, the sunshine.” Delve into the meaning of  liberate and heal with her, and you’ll quickly understand why scholars have taken to these words.

“When I first heard Love, Liberate, Heal, it made me feel safe to be in my community,” said Shaylynn, a founding scholar. “Those three words gave me hope that we can make things better.”

Our inaugural class will experience a project-based curriculum that connects the classroom to the community in socially relevant, culturally conscious ways. “We are launching our high school with a leadership team of bold, bright, and brave women,” said Dr. Robert S. Harvey, superintendent and managing director of East Harlem Scholars Academies. “We are saying ‘yes’ to visionary thinking in the classroom as we create a community-based, college-bound, transformative network of schools committed to the practice of freedom.”

At any Scholars Academy, academics are key, and the high school is no exception. Students will earn full Regents diplomas and enjoy an array of Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Through instruction derived from the school themes of social justice and community change, they will also develop an activist mindset and real-world experience. All of this sets the course for our scholars becoming the next generation of problem-solvers and thought leaders.

As they create the space where they can exercise their inherent brilliance, our founders will know that “there are tools within their reach that they are capable of using every day, so they can thrive and define success for themselves,” said Principal Myers. But perhaps most importantly, “I want our scholars to be able to experience joy every day.” 


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