Stronger Houston: Educators provides second chance for students in underserved communities

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – Students working for a second chance at getting a high school education are faced with a lot of challenges. Local educators are stepping up to help, addressing more than just their needs in the classroom.

The nonprofit Eight Million Stories supports students with education, job readiness, career exploration, employment and social-emotional learning.

Marvin Pierre, co-founder and executive director, said while they started out by helping kids who had been caught up in the criminal justice system, as they began to have success they realized it wasn’t enough.

Jeanelle Frances and Nathaniel Duncan, both 19, are two high school dropouts who are getting back in the game.

“I wasn’t motivated. The people that were teaching me weren’t motivating me either so I dropped out,” Frances said.

“I worked, so I helped out with the family. I had to be a dad for my siblings and all that,” Duncan said.

Jeanelle and Nathaniel’s stories are the stories of so many kids their age, especially young people of color in underserved communities -- Black students in particular.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Black students are three to four times more likely to be expelled from school than their white peers.

“We realized there was a need to create an alternative pathway for students to get equitable access to education,” Pierre said.

In 2017, Pierre helped create Eight Million Stories to support students, whether they’ve been pushed out of the school system as a result of the school-to-prison pipeline, or dropped out because they haven’t been able to succeed in a traditional school setting.

“We realized that we have to take a holistic approach to service our youth, especially our youth of color,” Pierre said.

This means, in addition to teaching students in the classroom and providing them with job training, Eight Million Stories is also addressing their social-emotional needs and helping them navigate housing and food insecurities to break the cycle of generational poverty.

The Center For American Progress found that Black and Hispanic households in 2020 were more than twice as likely to experience food insecurity. In 2020, 21.7% of Black households experienced food insecurity, as did 17.2% of Hispanic households and 7.1% of white households.

“We try to look at things from a different lens. One of the things that we do really well here is we meet the kids where they are,” Pierre said.

Pierre added that many of the challenges students face are centered on the family dynamic, which if left unchecked, can get in the way of their success.

“We are now more of a college and career readiness program that is literally taking kids off the streets and helping them envision a life that many of them never thought would be possible for them,” Pierre said.

Jeanelle and Nathaniel are both well on their way towards earning their high school equivalency diploma. Both are Inspired to beat the odds by seizing a second chance at getting an education.

“All the stuff I was messing up on when I was young, I’m getting to know it now and learning a lot and loving it,” Duncan said.

“I can do way more than I thought I could. I am so, so grateful and so, so thankful that they actually took the time to help me,” Frances said.

Eight Million Stories is a small but mighty program. It is 100% built on individual and corporate donations, grants, and community partnerships, receiving both local and national support.

If you’d like to learn more about Eight Million Stories, click here.

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