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Positive Role Models Keep Students on Track

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Mr. Bruno works closely with students in Senior Seminar and helps them navigate the college application process.

After leaving a government contractor job at the Pentagon in 2015, Kevin Bruno didn’t know what was next. He just knew that the “routine position” left him feeling unfulfilled and in search for something more rewarding. During the summer of that year, Mr. Bruno applied for open substitute teacher positions at high schools in East of the River communities—neighborhoods where “students see more negativity than success.” Though Mr. Bruno had very little teaching experience, he believed that just being a school presence and a positive role model as a black man could be helpful to students from Wards 7 and 8.

“When I was in high school, there was only one black male teacher in the school,” he said. Mr. Bruno credits Justin Williams, Special Education Teacher, Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College and Alumni Programming, and other African-American longtime faculty and staff who, he says, gives students a positive image of black men. “For the young boys who don’t have a father-figure in the home or positive male influences in their communities, they have a hard time believing that they can be different because they don’t see it.”

When Mr. Bruno took on a long-term substitute position at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA), he learned quickly about TMA’s tier 1 status and the school’s expectations of students. He taught mostly freshmen classes, filling in for English teachers and he even taught Summer Prep English this past summer. “By the time freshmen make it to senior year, they have proven to be scholars. After four years of TMA’s rigorous curriculum, students are ready for college,” he says.

Mr. Bruno’s long-term sub position opened the door to infinite possibilities and now Mr. Bruno is a full-time staff member at TMA, supporting the College Counseling Department as the Alumni Program and College Counseling Associate. Shifting from the day-to-day classroom experience to the office setting, Mr. Bruno says that he’s looking forward to the challenge. “In my new role, I interact mostly with alumni.”

Mr. Bruno also teaches Senior Seminar, a course where 12th graders delve into the college application process. This part of the position has come full circle for Mr. Bruno, who worked in the admissions office at Virginia State University. As a Student Ambassador, he led guided tours, scheduled and coordinated open houses, oversaw freshmen orientation, and assessed applications. Mr. Bruno advises students to “just be yourself” when completing college applications. “Yes, your transcript is important but it’s the things you’ve done outside of the classroom that will set you apart.”

Shifting to the college counseling side, Mr. Bruno sees how TMA’s family culture doesn’t end once students head off to college. He oversees the school’s Emergency Alumni Fund and has already assisted alumni from four different classes with books and travel expenses to campus. Currently, he’s planning Senior Parent College Night, which, for the first time, will feature TMA alumni and their parents who will share how the college experience is very much a family commitment.

“Senior year can be very stressful for students but when they have a community of support at school and at home, that takes a lot of pressure off. Once they’re accepted to college, everyone in their circle realizes that the hard work really was worth it,” he ends.