African-American and Latino boys ages 11 to 18 at six schools in the main Detroit district will soon have the option to work with a mentor who looks like them.

The district Tuesday announced at Southeastern High School the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an in-school dropout prevention and mentoring program for students in grades 6 through 12 identified as at-risk of dropping out of school.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if teachers and coaches hadn’t stepped in after my dad left,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said to an auditorium full of men interested in becoming mentors. “The reality is no one can replace a father, but we can fill a gap, and this program is to fill that gap.”

The district will identify 50 students in six schools and identify a male African-American or Latino role model to work in group settings with the 300 students.

If successful, the program could provide young black men role models they may not have at the front of the classroom. Eighty-one percent of district students last year were African-American, and while roughly 65 percent of the teaching force is African American, only about 1 in 5 of those teachers are male.

The program will start for grades K-8 at Durfee Elementary-Middle School, Marion Law Academy, Mackenzie Elementary Middle School and at the high school level at Central, Pershing, and Southeastern high schools.

Men interested in becoming mentors will go through a screening process and once approved, will work with specific schools to provide themed weekly meetings, a monthly speaker series, community service projects, and college access support.

Mentor training will begin in March, and in April the first sessions will begin, the district said. Principals are in the process of selecting 50 boys at each of their schools to take part.

Men who have listed offenses of crimes sexual in nature will not be allowed to work in the program, the district said.