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Jesse's Story: Beyond Myself

Jesse Jean grew up without parents in inner-city Washington, D.C., and seemed destined to slip through the cracks. At age 16, a sophomore in high school, he was a failing student in danger of dropping out.

But then Jean met two mentors in a neighborhood tutoring center, and they put him on a very different path. They arranged a scholarship at Hyde School, an elite prep school in rural Woodstock, Conn.

Independent radio producer Katie Davis has known Jean for years -- they lived in the same neighborhood, and Davis had watched him grow into a talented athlete with a quick mind and a bright, engaging smile.

Davis first profiled Jean for NPR's All Things Considered in May 2002, after his first year at boarding school. Back then, Jean hated the place and considered it a prison. The class work was harder than anything he'd ever had before.

Still, returning home to his old neighborhood was a bleak prospect. He was surrounded by failing schools, drug dealers and violence. So Jean hunkered down and mapped a strategy to make it through the rigorous school, by keeping to himself and focusing on himself -- as Davis describes it, a bunker mentality.

Now, in the summer of 2004, Davis has a second portrait of Jean. She finds Jean actually embracing the academic and behavioral standards of the school -- in fact, he's emerged a school leader.

Other kids at the school look up to him, and he likes to show the way with a quiet leadership style. When he returns to his old neighborhood, he talks to friends about turning away from dead-end lifestyles.

And there's a happy ending to this story -- or at least, a happy beginning: Jean graduated from Hyde School on May 30, 2004.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.