Program aims to bolster students' character, academics

(Photo: Brandis Griffith/ WJLA)

Children in a local program are getting up early on Saturday to go to school, all to help them map out a more successful future.

“At first when I wake up, I don't want to come because I think it's more and more more work,” said 10-year-old Marcus Davis Jr., one of the participants.

Marcus, Lavonnte and Omare are in the second week of the Tap program for boys, organized through the Youth Leadership Foundation. By now, they’re happy to be there.

“I like it because it teaches us how to be respectful,” said Omare Harris Tyer, also 10.

The program is designed to help students improve academically by building their character. David Cook, executive director of the Youth Leadership Foundation, says the program focuses on perseverance, patience, friendship and service to others.

“The challenging academics is part of character formation - having them believe that they can get straight As,” Cook said.

Girls attend the pals program at a different location. Deja Sumler attended pals while she was in middle school.

“My grades have improved, I went from a 2.3 to a 3.0,” Sumler, now in 11th grade, says.

College graduate Will Thomas returns to volunteer and set an example with young men in Tap.

“If you have the believe and the willpower and you stick to it, you can definitely be whatever you want to be,” he said.

This summer, the youth leadership foundation started a pilot internship program for girl students, who interned with local businesses and organizations. It will be expanded to include boys next summer.

Know someone you think deserves to be one of Harris' Heroes, or a question? Email us at