Comprehensive Development, Inc. (CDI) is pleased to announce that Michael A. Roberts is CDI’s new Executive Director. Michael has served as the Assistant Executive Director since September 2013 and has dedicated his career to serving and working in partnership with young men and women to ensure they achieve their goals for success beyond high school and break generational poverty.
“Michael has such an energy and passion for our mission and the young people we serve. It’s evident in all that he leads on behalf of CDI, and we are excited to move forward into this next stage of growth and development with Michael at the helm,” said Pamela J. Craig, Chair of CDI’s Board of Directors.
While at CDI, Michael has managed programming for young adults ages 14 to 24 at The High School for Health Professions and Human Services and City-As-School High School and overseen the launch of the CDI Career Academy—a sectoral-based training certificate program for recent graduates, now in its second year. He brings more than 20 years experience of youth development and nonprofit management to the role, first from Safe Horizon and later from The Children’s Aid Society. Michael has spoken and provided trainings around the U.S. and has worked at both federal and local levels to develop strategies, programs and positive outcomes for young people to become leaders in their homes, schools and communities while developing the skills needed to compete and succeed in the 21st Century.
Michael earned his Masters of Social Work from Hunter College. He succeeds John J. Mancuso, Jr. who retired after a successful 10 year tenure which included the expansion of CDI from one site to form a network of schools.
Twice a year at City-As-School, students gather in the library for the Student Learning Expo to present their portfolio projects – the comprehensive output of their internship work and a requirement for graduation. Internships are an integral part of the CAS curriculum. Students split their time between classes and internships where they get real-world experience. They can chose from hundreds of internships all over New York City, from businesses and organizations, to schools and art galleries. Jennifer Matos has always dreamed of being an animal activist, but wanted to broaden her understanding of human rights issues, so she interned at the Museum of Tolerance. “It really opened up my eyes to the history and ongoing issues that people face around the world. I was a docent and teaching groups of students about the museum gave me so much confidence to speak publicly. I want to pursue wildlife management next year in college, but I also want to continue to be involved in promoting human rights because of this internship.”
Emily Dorta interned as an Art Teacher Assistant at her old middle school in the Bronx. “I was interested in working with children with developmental issues and helping them gain confidence and understanding through art. But I”ve never worked in a classroom before, so I wanted to know what it”s really like to be a teacher. I discovered you really need a lot of patience! I”m still really interested in being a teacher but I”m also considering being a pediatrician.”
Congratulations to the The Eagles, the brand new Manhattan Comprehensive Soccer Team, which has just finished their season with a bang! They made it all the way to the final championships of the Small School’s Athletic League in October. “There are so many kids from all around the world at this school who have grown up playing soccer,” says Mark Dorman, MC’s Physical Education teacher, who got the team together. “There are a lot of talented students and there was a real thirst to have an official team. Now we’ve finally been able to make that happen and we can attract more young people to the school because of it. Hadji was the one who was out on the field making it happen.”
El Hadji Diop, the team’s Field Coach, graduated from Manhattan Comprehensive in 2004 and came back as soon as he heard about the new team. “I was playing and coaching the NYC Senegal team when one of my players, who was also a student at MC, told me that the school was looking for a field coach for their very first soccer team. I thought: ‘I have to go back and help those kids!'” He met with Dorman and within weeks they were all out on Randall’s Island having their first practice.
Diop remembers his first soccer ball back home in Senegal – it was made of cheap plastic. “Growing up in Africa, soccer is a huge part of life. We play all the time, even barefoot if we have to.” Diop came to the U.S. alone at the age of 18, with a few words of English and dreams of going to college. He soon enrolled at Manhattan Comprehensive and after two years, he received his high school diploma and went on to BMCC for an accounting degree. His high grades and skills on the soccer field attracted the notice of some college recruiters. He received a full scholarship to play at Central Connecticut State University, a Division 1 school. But his chances to go pro were cut short after he suffered several injuries. He put his Accounting degree to work at City Group, all the while coaching and playing on amateur soccer teams in the city.
Diop playing on Central Connecticut State College’s Division 1 soccer team “I love playing soccer but I love coaching more because I get to teach these young guys. I am always reminding the MC team that they are student players; their education is what matters first. And they listen. Some students have really turned around their grades this year and several have been offered scholarships. I am so proud of what they’ve accomplished. To come so far the first year is amazing!” Diop is looking forward to next season already, but in the meantime, he’s harnessing his relationship with the students by working with the school’s counselors and CDI’s college advisors to mentor the players through the overwhelming college application process. “I’ve been where they are, and I want to help them use their talent and dedication to soccer for their life after high school.”
This October, 80 new students began their high school careers at City-As-School by taking part in a new program created jointly by CAS and CDI. The Bridge Program helps all new students make a smooth transition into the school and prepares them to fulfill CAS’s unique requirements and meet its high standards. “Our students come from schools all over the city,” says Jon Saul, CDI’s College and Career Advisor at CAS. “They are bright and creative and individual, but they don’t fit the typical high school mold. Sitting in a classroom for hours and only writing papers isn’t for them. CAS gives them an alternative way to learn through experiences that speak directly to their interests. But jumping right in can be difficult.” CAS requires that all students complete a portfolio that is a comprehensive account of all their work at the school, as well as college applications, and internships that provide exposure and practical experience.
The month-long Bridge Program includes a school readiness class with intensive writing and math, and a college and career readiness class in which CDI advisors teach professionalism and conflict resolution, and help with applications for college and job training programs. “We want all our students to have the habits necessary to succeed at CAS and beyond,” says Saul. The students go through the entire program as a cohort, attending all classes and an internship together. The cohort model provides a built-in community and the support of their peers. Once they complete the program, they begin taking regular classes and internships with the rest of the students. “Before I took this class, I didn’t think I was ready for college because my grades were low,” says Zakiyyah Timmons. “Then my CDI college and career advisors helped me understand that I could still get accepted, so now I’ve been applying to SUNY schools left and right! I really enjoyed the class and now I feel ready to go to college and start my career.”
When 10-year-old Aiden Rahaim came from North Carolina to visit his grandfather, Jack, in New York over the sumer, they went to visit one of Jack’s old friends: CDI’s Executive Director, John Mancuso. Jack has been a long time consultant to CDI, offering much of his time pro-bono. “I’ve taught a couple of courses at Manhattan Comprehensive and I love the school and CDI’s mission. I wanted to share that with my grandson.”
John took them on a tour of Manhattan Comprehensive and when they got to the chemistry lab, John mentioned that CDI had raised money to purchase lab equipment and furnishings. Aiden surveyed the classroom and then he pulled his grandfather aside and told him he wanted to donate some of his own money that he’d saved from birthday gifts, to CDI. “I hope my donation, along with others, can help CDI help kids get their education,” says Aiden.
Aiden has always been a generous kid. “Many times we have to encourage him to spend some of his money on something fun for himself, like Legos,” says Cheryl Rahaim, Aiden’s mother. “But more times than not, he prefers to give it to others instead.” Aiden is happy his contribution will make a difference. “I think that every kid deserves a great education. Besides, I know if I was a CDI student, I’d hope someone would want to help me.”
We are delighted that Bleema Bershad has joined CDI as the newest member of the Board of Directors. Bershad’s connection to CDI goes back over a decade when she was a volunteer tutor at Manhattan Comprehensive from 2000-2003. “The act that brought me back to CDI proves the power of CDI,” says Bershad. “A student I tutored over 10 years ago reached out to me to reconnect. Today she is a hard working, successful young woman and mother. After spending time with her, I reached out to John Mancuso to learn more about current CDI efforts and was extremely impressed. I’m thrilled to join the Board and hope to apply my professional experience to help support CDI’s marketing and communications efforts.”
Today Bleema Bershad is a Partner at MomFocus Marketing LLC, a consultancy specializing in helping businesses optimize their marketing to mothers. Prior to joining MomFocus Marketing, Bleema was a Vice President at Citigroup, specializing in credit card marketing. She holds a BS from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Northwestern University. Her recent volunteer work includes tutoring math at Learning Leaders and serving as the President of her children’s school Parents’ Association.