Less than 7 in 10 Baltimore City public school ninth-grade students receives a high school diploma and roughly 42 percent of high school students miss more than 20 days each school year. Fewer than half of Baltimore City graduates will enroll in college, and only 10 percent of them will earn a two- or four-year college degree.
A decade ago, Sarah Hemminger, then a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, adopted a group of 15 struggling sophomores who were failing 50 percent of their classes at Dunbar High School. Over the next three years, she and a group of graduate student volunteers worked with these students individually in a “family” structure to remove obstacles to high school and college completion. Initially known as the Incentive Mentoring Program, Thread is a mentoring program over eight years that creatively links students and volunteers to service providers in the Baltimore community, creating a broader, more inclusive social fabric. Operating from ninth grade through college graduation, the program identifies the lowest performing freshmen high school students who are failing to meet minimum academic requirements and are facing significant psycho-social challenges (substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, and gang violence, for example). With a comprehensive, customized, year-round program, Thread addresses academic, basic, family, and financial needs that threaten high school graduation and college enrollment. The Thread Family model assigns six to eight volunteers in a “family unit” to each Thread student using a customized approach and a “do whatever it takes” mentality for assisting each adolescent. Yet Thread is as much about transforming the lives of its volunteers as well as its youth.
With critical multi-year Abell Foundation funding, the program has expanded to more than 700 volunteers serving 159 Thread students in three Baltimore City high schools, many colleges, and its first cohort of college alumni.
To date, 100 percent of Thread participants have been retained, 100 percent have graduated from high school, 96 percent have been accepted to college, and 86 percent have completed or are enrolled in a two- or four-year degree program. Thread aims to serve 1,000 students annually in the next five years.