Rick Turner loves Saturdays.
Saturdays, Turner knows why he struggled through college on a basketball scholarship, earned a Ph.D from Stanford and carved a comfortable life for himself and his family in Irvine.
"This is why," Turner said on a recent Saturday, striding bareheaded in the rain toward trailers on the UC Irvine campus where two dozen children and their parents were attending the Saturday Academy--a school Turner co-founded on his own time for Orange County black children and their parents.
The point is to prepare black children to "walk in the front door of the top colleges and universities in the country" by supplementing their education with academic, cultural and ethnic studies, said Turner, who Monday through Friday directs UCI's tutorial assistance program.
Like other black advocates, Turner worries about declining numbers of black students in the nation's colleges and universities as well as the shaky future of affirmative action in a conservative political atmosphere.
While blacks make up 12% of the population, only 8% are in college, and the numbers have been dropping, the American Council on Education reports.
In 1976, about 34% of black high school graduates went to college compared to 26% in 1985. (Anglo rates have remained stable, while the numbers of Latinos, though increasing, still have not kept pace with their growth in the general population.)
Contributing to the decline in black enrollment are fewer financial grants and a lackluster commitment to minority recruitment, Turner said.
Too Little, Too Late
Institutional outreach programs usually offer too little, too late, and affirmative action is too short-lived, he said.
"Someone has to realize you can't supplement in high school and expect them to be prepared in college," Turner said. "If you're going to do it right, you have to do it yourself."
Most of the Saturday Academy's students come from the predominantly white, middle-class suburbs of Orange County.
For them, the Saturday Academy is "probably one of the only settings in their educational history where they won't be intimidated," said Charles Register, an air traffic controller from Santa Ana whose son Jason, 13, attends Saturday Academy.
Dejuan Matthews, 12, has been the only black student in his Irvine classroom the last six years, said his father, Al Matthews, an employment service specialist for Orange County.
Nearly all students who filled out a five-week evaluation form about the Saturday Academy said they liked it. "It is fun to be with my own race," wrote one.
Marcus Canady, 9, a fourth-grader from Cypress, said he enjoys gaining a competitive edge with extra study. "It's like, I get ahead of my class, we do fifth-grade stuff like times and two digits."
"They tell you things they don't tell you in school," said Preston Beckley, 12, a seventh-grader from Yorba Linda. "It's kind of hard, but it's fun and not as boring."
Students in the Saturday Academy take a 10-week course that includes weekly classes in math, drama, science and black history, taught mostly by volunteer students and staff from UCI and some parents. Saturday students also receive training in note taking, test taking, time management, nutrition, essay writing and how to keep a checkbook.
The cost is $50 a quarter per child.
Inflexible on Rules
Any child in third to eighth grade whose parents are motivated enough to turn off Saturday morning cartoons and drive over to the campus is accepted, Turner said. But those who are chronically late, don't show up or misbehave are out. Turner said he is not flexible about the rules because "it's too important, too critical."
The most important feature of the Saturday Academy, he said, is involved parents. Parents must attend at least five of the 10 sessions.
"We're a family here," Turner told a dozen parents sipping coffee in the Cross Cultural Center on a damp Saturday morning while their children were marching across campus to the computer lab. "If any parent has a question or concern, go right to the instructor." He urged them to sit in, tutor or teach classes.
Children benefit psychologically from knowing parents care enough to come to class, said Turner, who holds a master's degree in psychiatric social work from the University of Connecticut. Unfortunately, most working parents have no time during school hours to participate in the public school system, he said.
One parent, James McCarty, a police officer from Lakewood, took over the algebra class that day because the instructor, a student from South Africa, was absent; another parent, Preston Beckley, a regional sales manager, had previously lectured students in the black history class about the self-destructive effects of hatred.
Black History Discussion
In one class, a half-dozen parents and 17 students listened attentively to Alvin B. (Wasi) Young, a second-year graduate student in fine arts, as he discussed black history--what they called "Our Story."