Developing Tomorrow’s Professionals group continues growing membership, helping students
Posted on 02/18/2014
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WEST HAVEN, Nov. 22, 2013 — West Haven High School senior Franzel Pena feels like a new and improved person and can’t help but get excited when he shares his story.

“My parents say, ‘What happened to you? You didn’t act like this before,’” says Pena, who takes pride in his renewed commitment to school and college ambitions.

He’s not the only WHHS student feeling that way lately. Pena and eight other young men at WHHS give credit for their transformation to Developing Tomorrow’s Professionals, a mentorship program designed to help black and Latino male students who show promise but need some extra guidance in navigating their final years in high school and planning for the future. The program is open to students from a few area schools.

Assistant Principal John DellaCamera oversees DTP participants from WHHS and is about to recruit a new group for this school year. The program targets sophomores and juniors and began including WHHS students a few years ago under the leadership of former Assistant Principal Kurt Ogren. Students who have completed the program have gone onto two- or four-year colleges or enlisted in the military.

Though it’s time for Pena and the other members of DTP who joined a year ago to wind down their formal involvement, they see the DTP mentality as their new way of life.

“After the first day, you feel your eyes are opened. You see society, people, friends, school and studying in a new way,” Pena says. “I thank everyone for their help and appreciate the school support. It’s a really great experience.”

To join the program, students must be recommended by teachers and guidance counselors based on behavior and grades. Chosen students are fitted for suits that they must wear to each of 10 “Academic Saturday” classes taking place over the summer at Southern Connecticut State University and any other DTP functions. Academic Saturdays are required for DTP members and include students from schools throughout the area.

Participants learn the “DTP Principles of a Man,” which include faith, love, commitment, honor and serving as a leader, and work with DTP founder Stephen Hoag, of the state Department of Education, along with mentors who are past DTP participants. Classes focus on a variety of subjects, from academic practices, such as note-taking, to social etiquette skills, such as making eye contact and shaking hands when greeting someone new, to debate strategies.

There is a college-preparatory component, and members also receive laptops for applying to college and completing schoolwork. Many who come into the program are hoping it will help them get into college, while others are hoping it will assist them now while they’re still in high school.

“My goal was to leave DTP with a better perspective academically,” says WHHS senior Michael Federic. “I got good grades, but my focus wasn’t good. Now, I’m focused and I plan everything I do.”

The best piece of advice he got from DTP? “For those who are not prepared for opportunities, the opportunities will only make them look foolish. And there are opportunities everywhere,” Federic said.

Young men of DTP are also taught to set goals for each day and be appreciative of the program. Current members made brief presentations earlier this year to the Board of Education about DTP and thanked the school district for its support.

These days, DTP seniors are busy applying to college. Elijah Gaskins, a senior, is hoping to attend Springfield College to major in exercise science for a career as a strength and conditioning coach. Federic is considering a major in chemistry, while Pena is hoping to study computer science and is already teaching himself computer coding language at home.

Junior Alejandro Quijada is thinking about attending college in Flordia and getting into the medical field, while fellow junior Genico Rosario is interested in furthering his education in genetic science.

Many members say they hope to eventually become DTP mentors and work with students on Academic Saturdays. For now, they may help choose the next DTP class at WHHS, said DellaCamera.

“It’s very important we make sure the program keeps going,” he said. “It gives these students the confidence and tools they need to reach their full potential and, as they said, values that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

Contact: Communications Director Susan Misur, 203-937-4300 X7114;