In part by necessity and part by design (not to mention sheer fatigue), the parents dialed back their close monitoring of grades and study habits and tried to give their sons more responsibility for setting the club’s agenda.
With the looser structure and more complicated lives, some of the students became less involved. One eventually left Briar Woods and enrolled in an alternative program to finish his degree.
But the parents continued to organize community service activities and college visits, touring Penn State and the University of Maryland. They also brought in occasional speakers, including the admissions director at Virginia Tech and Redskins Hall of Famer Art Monk.
Many of the teens aspired to play Division I sports in college and threw themselves into training. It paid off for some. Alex Carter was recruited by Stanford University at the end of his sophomore year to play football. Cameron Molina is going to play football at Columbia University. Others got scholarships elsewhere.
Some of the parents expressed mixed feelings about their sons’ athletic ambitions, after their concerted efforts to nurture their academic identities.
“While we are focused on getting to football practice,” Johnson said, “the Asian community and the Arab community are at Saturday school.”
In particular, he said, the group should have spent more time preparing for the SAT. Most of the club members had good grades and took college-level courses, but lower SAT scores hurt some of them when applying to schools or vying for scholarships.
Other parents in the club said their sons’ sports performance helped them, providing balance to their high school résumés and giving them a bigger footprint at school. Three of the four prom kings and queens at the two high schools this spring were members of Club 2012.
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At the reception after the parent-led graduation ceremony, the seniors helped themselves to a sheet cake that read “It Takes a Village” and posed for pictures with a dozen sixth-graders in baggy shorts and big sneakers.
They were African American students at Lunsford Middle, a recently opened school that is home to one of the most active groups modeled after Club 2012.
“It helps you get ready for college,” is how Jeremy Cofield, a sixth-grader, explained the purpose of the club.
The Club 2012 parents have visited multiple area middle schools over the years to share information about the achievement gap and their approach to dealing with it. The parents also formed a nonprofit group that they hope can benefit parents across the country who want to do something similar. Spinoff clubs have had varying degrees of success, depending on the chemistry and long-term commitment of the parents involved.
During the ceremony, Tom Carter offered some final words. His message was all-too-familiar to the older students, and he hoped it would resonate with the younger ones:
Never be embarrassed by your good grades or how hard you work. Don’t make excuses. And know that your parents are behind you.
“We want you to succeed more than we want to breathe,” he said, gazing down at his son and all the other young adults he helped succeed. “That’s just the definition of being a parent.”