Palisadian Dan Clement’s Mentoring Program Soars

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

For most parents in Pacific Palisades, college is a primary objective for their children. But for many Los Angeles families that goal seems unobtainable.

Palisadian Dan Clement, the father of two sons, wanted not only his kids, but all kids to go to college. When he retired in 2008 after 21 years as an in-house litigation attorney for the parent company of Southern California Gas Company (now Sempra Energy), he co-founded College Bound Today, a mentoring and support system for kids who attend high school in the Montebello Unified School District.

“I conducted a one-year search on nonprofits before I left my position [at Sempra] to enter that sector,” Clement said. “One of the projects that I lined up was to help a friend build a new college-access mentoring program that he had designed.”

Dan Clement, Founder of College Bound Today, With Bell Gardens High School Students. Photo: Max S. Gerber

Dan Clement, Founder of College Bound Today, With Bell Gardens High School Students. Photo: Max S. Gerber

His friend was Todd Clark, a veteran educator and executive director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization that was founded more than 50 years ago.

“Soon after I joined forces with Todd in 2008, he called Eddie Velasquez, the superintendent of the Montebello district, to ask if we could have a high school to start a pilot program,” Clement said. Velasquez welcomed Todd and said his nonprofit could start a pilot mentoring program at Schurr High School.

Clement notes that 85 percent of his students are from families that live below the poverty line and 80 percent of them are the first generation of their families to attend college.

“There is a dearth of financial resources and role models for applying to college,” Clement said. “These students display grit, determination, and raw intellectual talent which never ceases to amaze me, and many of them have extremely compelling personal stories.”

Clement explained that at three of the five high schools where College Bound Today mentors students, there is only a single college counselor (the schools have about 3,000 students).

“A fourth school has one counselor who is expected to handle everything for the students including discipline, programming of courses, college readiness and careers,” Clement said. “The fifth school is a continuation high school where there is much less emphasis on college as an expected student outcome.”

College Bound students attend monthly Saturday morning meetings with their mentor team, a 10-member student group with both high and low achievers and three mentors. The students are given a free SAT prep course and make numerous college visits.

In the program’s pilot year, College Bound started with 74 sophomores and 30 mentors. Two years later, 60 of these students went to college, including Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA and Mount St. Mary’s, and one enrolled in a post-secondary school certificate program (and now does video work for Disney).

“Nine years later, the nonprofit is still operating at Schurr, as well as in four other Montebello high schools,” said Clement, noting that the district, located about seven miles east of Los Angeles, is largely Latino. Since the program’s inception, 745 of the 750 students who have completed College Bound Today have gone on to college.

In 2015, CBT won the Golden Bell Award, a statewide recognition from the California School Boards Association that showcases educational programs that are innovative and can be replicated in other school districts.

Clement isn’t paid for his full-time position of running CBT, which he said has become a passion.

What in his background would steer him in this direction? Born on the East Coast, he went to public school in Rye, New York, until his father was transferred to Los Angeles and the family moved to Pasadena.

After graduating from Stanford, Clement studied political science as a graduate student at UCLA, then earned his J.D. degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also received a master’s of law degree in administrative law at Georgetown. Instead of jumping directly into the legal field, Clement spent about 18 months living in a VW bus in Guatemala, where he started an apparel business with a friend. He then spent six years working as an assistant U.S. attorney in the civil and criminal division in Los Angeles and three years at the law firm Sidley & Austin, before going to Sempra. Clement explained that in the next few years, he hopes to recruit a successor to take over the day-to-day operation of College Bound Today. He plans to refocus his energy on fundraising, mentor recruiting and networking with national college access organizations.

“I’d like to be in a position to hire a person to do what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m in my mid-60s, I’m not going to last forever, and I want this program to outlast me.”

In an article in the Penn alumni magazine, Clement said: “We now have our own alumni students who have graduated from college, moved back to their communities, and have recently started serving as mentors at their high school alma maters where they’re helping younger students follow in their footsteps to college. That moves me deeply. It doesn’t get any better.”

If a Palisadian wants to be a mentor, Clement said the process is simple.“Anyone who wants to be considered is entitled to a free cup of coffee (courtesy of yours truly) at the caffeine emporium of their choice, and a one-hour appointment to discuss details about CBT. I have recruited more than 300 volunteer mentors since 2008—many of them live in the Palisades, Brentwood and the Westside.”

Check donations to CBT, a project of the nonprofit Community Partners, can be made payable to Community Partners, for the benefit of CBT, and mailed to Community Partners, 1000 N. Alameda St., Suite 240, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (attention of College Bound Today).

For more information, visit http://collegeboundtoday.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *