skills and education they need to succeed in life."
The retirees wanted the summer to be about more than cleaning up parks. The organizers soon realized the breadth of retiree talent and considered how to fill rainy days with activities, said Heidi Magyar, the manager of Student Corps. Also, the company had miscalculated the caliber of the students--most have aspirations to go to college--so the program expanded in response.
"These kids have grit. They are determined to be successful in life," said Mr. DiGiovanni. "Their need and drive was way beyond what we anticipated."
Research solidly shows that having a mentor can help students from disadvantaged backgrounds who often don't have the support system and social capital needed to make it in college, said David Conley, the director of the Center for Educational Policy
Research at the University of Oregon, in Eugene. Mentors "take something that is abstract and make it real," he said.
The transition process from high school to college is far more complex and demanding than most schools acknowledge, said Mr. Conley. In these kinds of programs, students learn skills that help them feel more in control of their lives, which is a huge step in the process of getting ready for college, Mr. Conley said.
"It's a great example," he said of the GM program, "but ultimately, you need government to step in, colleges to step up, and school systems to reach out to local corporations and others to help make it happen."
The GM teams work on their community-service projects from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for 10 weeks, leaving lunch and occasional Mondays and Fridays for seminars on such topics as financial management and decisionmaking conducted by retirees and current employees, along with tours of the company's facilities and a college campus. The retirees get a modest stipend, and the students are paid slightly more than minimum wage for a 30-hour work week. The college interns provide logistical support to the crews and answer students' questions about college life.
Yvonna Olds, 22, an intern who graduated from Detroit Mercy in May, said she frequently tells the students that, unlike in high school, there won't be someone in college telling them what to do and to be prepared for the experience to be hard. "You have to want it bad enough," said Ms. Olds. "In college, you have to develop a personality where you are a go-getter. I encourage them to have the right mindset."
Geneva Brooks, 17, who wants to study social work in college, said she is grateful for the advice from the mentors and is enjoying the program. "You hear people complaining this is such a bad neighborhood, but they don't do anything about it. We are stepping out of our comfort zone," she said. "We are having fun and we are learning."
Students talk about the awe of working for a big-name company like GM, although some wish the internship was at its headquarters downtown rather than outdoors in the heat. Others worry that the grass at the abandoned houses will grow back and the trash will accumulate again. But most convey a sense of satisfaction in the work they've accomplished and are full of questions about the future.
In Detroit, the four-year high school graduation rate is about 65 percent, and
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