By Steve Pickett

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Coordinator for the African American Success Initiative (AASI), Jamila Thomas has a mission from the Dallas School District that targets 35,000 students. They are students who attend the same neighborhood schools and lived in the same section of South Oak Cliff as she previously did.

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“I wanted to come back,” she explains, while sitting inside a small room inside David W. Carter High School.

Simply put, the initiative aims to reverse the long-standing struggle facing black students in the school system. “Statistics show we have kids who are failing,” Thomas acknowledges.

In virtually every category used to assess student achievement, African American students lag behind whites. Passage rates on standardized tests in reading, math and science for black students typically fall below the 50 percent mark. Thomas oversees a strategic program targeting 13 schools in predominately black neighborhoods.

AASI implements programs that focus on six components: Academic Achievement, College and Career Readiness, Community Partnerships, Parent and Family Engagement and Student Advocacy and Cultural Diversity.

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Inside Carter High School, Thomas greets four students all dressed as if they’re headed to job interviews, complete with ties for boys. The students are examples of student academic success on the campus. Each of them offers a plan for their future, yet Chademtra Carter, 18, admits that there are other students who aren’t interested in achievement through hard work.

“Instead of dreaming and thinking about what to do with their life, they’re working and trying to pay bills. There’s no time to dream,” she says.
Thomas believes AASI must partner with adult mentors and volunteers to provide minority students with success examples. “Fundamentally, it comes down to students wanting to do better, and be better by exposure,” Thomas explains.

The exposure to careers, lifestyles and goal-setting comes through partnerships with people such as Curtis Ferguson. Ferguson also teaches at Carter High. His work with AASI centers on giving students opportunities to see themselves excelling.

“We have to teach children to dream again, and part of the challenge we have in the African American community is its limits,” he says. Too many young people of color don’t see the various jobs and careers that are indelibly tied to their school work. AASI focuses on making the connection.

Next week, Thomas will be part of a coalition of student success advocates heading to the White House. The visit is connected to President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative.

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