COLUMBIA — When Annelle Whitt became the the Minority Academic Committee (MAC) Scholars coordinator in April 2011, she planned to increase the effectiveness of the program and the tools available to students.
On Wednesday, part of that plan will be realized when some of the program's standout students sit down at a roundtable luncheon with at least eight community leaders and professionals of color to discuss being successful in school and potential career paths.
The event will be informal, with each community leader given three minutes to talk about their background, including how they chose their profession and why they believe they have been successful before the floor opens up for students to ask questions.
"I mostly want them to hear the dialogue," Whitt said. "The richness of that dialogue is what the kids will get the most out of."
The community leaders include a law professor, a psychiatrist and a Columbia School Board member. The group was "consciously diverse," Whitt said, including men and women, African-Americans and Hispanics and representing a variety of career paths.
"I want to give them an opportunity to see themselves in those roles, by seeing people who look like them in varied careers," Whitt said. "I want them to see the options and opportunities they have."
MAC started in the 1990s in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and was introduced to the Columbia Public School system in 2001. The original model was geared toward African-American men, but the Columbia Public Schools programs are open to young men and women, geared toward African-American and Hispanic students.
There are MAC programs for students in sixth to 12th grade in three middle schools, all three junior highs and three high schools. One is planned for Battle High School when it opens next fall. In all, about 500 students participate.
"MAC provides support, tools and positive experiences for the students," Whitt said. "We want to reduce and eventually eliminate the achievement gap between minority students and white students."
Leaders of the MAC program try to achieve this with tutoring, test preparation and speakers. Core components of the MAC programs are education, community service, mentoring and coaching, fundraising and leadership.
Within the MAC Scholars program, about 60 of the "extraordinary performers" were deemed Academic Leaders, Whitt said, and those students were on the guest list for the roundtable luncheon. As of late last week, about 30 of them were expected to attend, she said.
For the luncheon, MAC paired up with Extended Educational Experiences , which is the gifted program in the district working with students from first through 12th grade.
The education program also works to find ways to connect with students from demographics that are typically underrepresented in gifted programs, program co-director Jake Giessmansaid. About half of the MAC Scholars Academic Leaders are also qualified for the program.
What the students involved in the MAC Scholars Academic Leaders share is a high level of achievement and desire to go beyond what is offered in their classrooms.
"These students are strong and have bright futures ahead of them," Giessman said. "We want to do what we can to help them on that path."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.