Cameron Rodgers is comfortable at De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur, where the sophomore excels in the classroom and on the football field and track.
That comfort level is matched or exceeded at Most Holy Trinity Academy in north St. Louis, where he serves as a tutor and assistant basketball coach. He's an effective leader, assisting the grade-schoolers with their studies and athletic skills.
Byron Jackson, a seventh-grader who has a magic touch with his shot, is among the youngsters who look up to Cameron, a Most Holy Trinity alum. "It means a lot to have him here supporting us," said Byron, who plans to attend De Smet like his buddy.
Cameron enjoys giving back through mentoring. "And I want to see them all grow up to be something great," he said. "That's what I'm striving to be, and I want them to do the same."
Greg Swain, coach of the basketball team and mentor to Cameron, said the high school student relates to each of the boys on the team. "I'm 53. They're more comfortable in sharing things with him. They open up when he asks them questions," Swain said.
Cameron is enthusiastic about the sixth- through eighth-graders on the CYC team that is undefeated so far this year. "They're like my little brothers," he said. "I love 'em."
His lessons extend beyond their play to sportsmanship, including respecting the referees.
As a tutor, he asks them to come to him for help. "But they're smart kids. I don't have to do much," Cameron said.
Cameron is part of the "Give Back" work-study program at ACCESS Academies schools, which brings graduates who are in high school or college back to their grade schools to provide assistance. Their earnings help pay their tuition. It's made possible through a grant from the Dana Brown Foundation.
He said he's thankful because the staff at Most Holy Trinity gave him strength when he struggled. "They fought for me here," Cameron said. "I want to show them I appreciate the time they put in. They gave me a chance to grow as a young man. The school was my backbone. They were the only people who didn't give up on me when everyone else did."
Today's students remind him of himself. "I cherish coming here because they watch me and look up to me," he said. "So I try to be a role model."
ACCESS Academies' graduate-support directors work with families to find a college-preparatory high school that fits the student's personality and learning style. The graduate-support director eases the transition from middle school to high school by monitoring each student's academic growth and achievement through mentoring and advocacy. While a student is in high school, the support director assists with college tours, ACT test prep, college applications and FAFSA counseling.
Nick McDowell, graduate-support director at Most Holy Trinity, said the work-study program helps the high school and middle-school students. "Just seeing students come back here, kids who sat in the same class as them, works really well," he said.
Cameron is charismatic and passionate. "A lot of kids look up to him as a big-brother figure, especially the boys. He's a model of consistency for them," McDowell said. "He's just a good person to be around."
Middle-school students are raw, still trying to find their personality and to mature. Following them into high school and college is rewarding for McDowell. "One of my kids got a chance to study abroad in China last summer. To see where he came from and talking to him on Facetime while he was there, seeing his growth and maturity as a young man, it's just astonishing. Watching them become young men and young women is very important to me."
He's thankful that the supporters of ACCESS Academies provide the resources for the students.
>> ACCESS Academies
ACCESS (Academies Creating Challenging Education for St. Louis Students)
• Nurtures the academic success of economically and/or socially disadvantaged middle-school students in underrepresented neighborhoods in the city of St. Louis.
• Makes a seven-year commitment to each student, beginning in middle school, to support a robust academic curriculum, homework assistance, service projects and enrichment.
• Supports mandatory summer school and provides a school-based graduate support director who works with each student and family from middle school through high school and into college.
• Housed within three archdiocesan partner schools: Most Holy Trinity School and Academy (North St. Louis); St. Cecilia School & Academy (South St. Louis); and St. Louis the King School at the Cathedral.
• Once accepted, Academy graduates are monitored and assisted by a graduate-support director, a school-based staff member who visits the students at their high schools, monitors their progress, arranges for such assistance as tutoring/counseling/etc., and works with their families to ensure high school completion and college admission.
• For graduates attending tuition-charging high schools, scholarships are provided to defray the cost of high school. These are based on financial need, assistance provided by the student's high school and other factors.
• 87 percent of ACCESS students qualify for free/reduced lunch; 98 percent are admitted to college preparatory high schools; 95 percent are admitted to college or other post-secondary institution
For more information, visit www.accessacademies.org.