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This Founder’s Journey Became His Mission

By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission.

Aaron McCloud has been on a journey.

Now, it’s his mission.

McCloud grew up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, which probably means everything you think it does. “I remember thinking,” McCloud said, “on my 18th birthday, ‘I can’t believe I made it.’”

Academically, his experience was like too many others – overlooked, passed along, forsaken. “I was not a good student,” he undersells. He graduated high school with a 1.7 GPA and with no idea what he could do. “It was a teacher, a teacher in a class I was failing, who first exposed me to the possibility of working in the energy sector,” McCloud said.

With that in mind, he took the military aptitude test and was recruited by the Navy into the highly demanding, highly coveted nuclear power school. It was his introduction to engineering. “I’d never seen anything like that,” he said.

But poorly equipped academically, he struggled. “They told me I could pass these classes or be assigned to the fleet, to paint,” he said. Given that choice, he surrounded himself with the available resources including his first exposure to high-dose, high-touch tutoring – tools and interventions that would take him from 1.7 GPA to the top of his class in the Navy Nuclear Power Program.

“It made me realize what I missed in my early education,” McCloud said. “Had I had exposure to tutoring, to hands-on workforce options and mentoring, things would have been different. And not just for me.”

After the Navy, McCloud went back to California and literally knocked on the door of the admissions office at USC. “I ran nuclear power plants and I wanted to learn how to build ships,” he said. But after reviewing his SAT scores and high school transcripts, USC was unimpressed. They directed him to Santa Monica Community College and told him to demonstrate academic success first. Then, in a real life version of the movie Rudy, McCloud showed back up at USC after every semester, report card in hand asking what he needed to do next to be accepted at USC.

Eventually, he was admitted to USC, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. He went on to the University of Michigan, earning two Masters Degrees – one in business and the other in naval architecture. Following the seed planted in high school, McCloud moved to Texas and started a career in energy. He worked on offshore platforms in Texas. He worked in Denmark, Brazil and Korea. “At one point, I looked up and realized I was managing teams that were on contracts worth millions of dollars a day,” he said.

“I spent time seeing us hire and I starting noticing I was the only person of color at my level. I took note that I was the only black person with my degree at Michigan. Same thing at USC. At the time, my head was down, I had not even noticed. I was too focused on where I was trying to be,” McCloud said.

His company had diversity programs and they were serious about it, he said. The company even had outreach programs to K-12 schools, designed to introduce young scholars from diverse backgrounds to careers in the energy sector. Given his schooling background and personal experience with tutors and mentors, McCloud was in. “I purposely went to schools, the lowest income schools. I went there because I knew that’s where I came from and if I knew that if I could expose people there, the impact is generational – how to access high paying jobs that are attainable jobs,” he said.

But that wasn’t enough, McCloud said. “I would go, then just disappear. The work was important but there was no sustainable connection and no ability to make these connections at scale. And that’s where I had the idea, the passion, that these students needed something different. Students with low GPA but high potential needed deep, long-term support and it needed to be done at scale. One class at a time, one time, was never going to be enough.”

That was 2015. By 2016, McCloud had started Intervene K-12 to provide high-impact academic tutoring and career mentoring to overlooked and under-resourced students at technology-driven scale.

Bootstrapped since its founding, Intervene K-12 now reaches more than 30,000 students nationally, with growing footprints in Hartford, Connecticut, New York City, Dallas, Houston, Michigan and Louisiana. Further expansion is forthcoming in California and Florida.

“For the kids who need the most help, those who will benefit the most from quality interventions, mentoring is just not part of their school day,” McCloud said. Most, he said, also have significant learning needs in math and reading and other fundamentals. “But by putting high-dose tutoring with mentorship, we can invest in the whole child while helping them academically. We can help them see themselves in the future.”

With the proven results of individual tutoring and growing awareness of ongoing learning losses, coupled with temporary federal funding, districts have been expanding tutoring initiatives. Which means it’s a good time to be in the tutoring business. And as McCloud points out, many new players have sprung up.

For McCloud and Intervene K-12, that’s just fine. He’s counting on providing a different, deeper kind of engagement and on being there early. When you understand McCloud’s journey, that he’s already there makes sense. It may even have been inevitable.

Originally posted on Forbes on March 16, 2023.