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To be young, gifted and an Alpha Achiever

The Baltimore Sun

Konyinsola Oshikoya, a 14-year-old sophomore at Howard County's Oakland Mills High School, is always on the lookout for new members of the Alpha Achievers.

"If I see someone in the hall who I think should be there, I'll pull them aside," Konyinsola said.

That kind of commitment has allowed the organization, which encourages excellence among minority students, to spread to five Howard County high schools over the past 10 years.

As school systems struggle to close the student achievement gap, programs like the Alpha Achievers are growing in popularity.

Originally founded for African-American boys, Alpha Achievers is now open to male high school students of every ethnic minority with at least a 3.0 grade-point average.

Jordan Williams, a 14-year-old freshman member of the Oakland Mills chapter, has noticed a larger presence of male minority students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes, which he attributes to Alpha Achievers.

"In the past, men of color haven't been looked upon as being very achieving," Jordan said. "In my old school, there wasn't anything like this."

The group formed at Oakland Mills High in 1997 with fewer than 20 students. Since then, more than 100 members have graduated at the Columbia school.

A second chapter was started at Long Reach High several years ago. Reservoir and Wilde Lake high schools formed their own chapters during the last school year. Howard High School started a chapter this school year. And Hammond High School is interested in starting a group, according to Vincent James, a guidance counselor and gifted-and-talented resource teacher who serves as the Alpha Achievers' adviser at Oakland Mills High.

At the end of November, the Oakland Mills chapter held one of its largest induction ceremonies - 32 students.

"I think it's growing more so because Howard County is realizing how important it is to promote excellence" among minority students, James said. "The county is recognizing that we are trying to make a difference."

James has been the adviser at Oakland Mills since the program started there.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., a historically black organization, founded Alpha Achievers. James said he was inspired to advise the group after hearing members of the fraternity speak to a group of students about morality and sexual responsibility.

Alpha Achievers has helped to change the academic climate at Long Reach High School, according to Principal Edmund Evans.

"It's been subtle; it hasn't been an explosive change," Evans said. "But as we move along to close any gaps we have, I think that the program has made a nice impact on our African-American males."

Evans has been most impressed with the adults who have worked with his students.

"Our kids have an opportunity to meet with very professional folks," Evans said. "They've been able to learn and model and gain interpersonal relationships with mentors. It helps our kids move forward in their walks of life."

This school year, the Oakland Mills Alpha Achievers have completed several community service projects, including serving food to the homeless at Thanksgiving. Members are now selling the group's annual calendar, in which members pose in tuxedos.

"We're doing some great stuff this year," James said.

Stephen Tang-Nian, a 15- year-old sophomore, joined the Oakland Mills chapter last year because he heard it was a respected academic group. "I thought it would look [good] when I started applying for colleges."

In addition to making new friends, Stephen said he has been encouraged by members of the organization to excel in school.

"I've had that extra push and motivation," he said.

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