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Black male students school educators on effective learning

JROTC Battalion Commander Gary Callis (left) of Huguenot High School and Nigel Richardson (left), an honor student at Richmond Community High School speak on a panel during the National Summit on Educational Excellence and Opportunity for African American Males presented by the U.S. Department of Education and the Great City Schools.

By Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Teachers, school administrators and education policy experts have lectured at the head of the class for decades while failing to solve the complex equation of the Black male achievement gap. Now, high-performing, young Black males are picking up the chalk. Teachers and school officials should take notes.

“Among my peers, education looks more like a burden than an opportunity,” said Nigel Richardson, an honor student at Richmond Community High School in Richmond, Va.

Richardson shared his experiences as a student in Richmond Public Schools during a featured panel at the National Summit on Educational Excellence and Opportunity for African American Males presented by the U.S. Department of Education and the Great City Schools.

Richardson said that his parents and family stressed the importance of education as early as kindergarten.

“It was never, ‘Are you going to college?’ it was, ‘What college are you going to?’ It was never, ‘How are you doing in school?’ It’s, ‘I know you’re making those A’s,’” said Richardson.

As a sophomore, Richardson earned a top 10 rank in his class and a 4.35 grade point average in honors and advanced placement courses. After a teacher urged him to compete in the 2011 Future Business Leaders of America annual competition, he brought home a first place award for public speaking. Last September, Richardson introduced President Barack Obama before a speech at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Richardson credited his parents, family and some teachers for pushing him to succeed. He wished that other Black male students got pushed just as hard.

More teachers need to set expectations for students in the classroom, Richardson said.

Unfortunately, some teachers set those expectations lower for poor and Black students.

According to research published in the Anthropology & Education Quarterly in 2004, teachers often lowered their expectations for students based on economic status and race. Teachers took less responsibility for what poor and Black students learned and, taking the path of least resistance, the students checked out, too.

Researchers also reported that those expectations are “a more powerful influence” on Black students than white students and can make or break their ambitions in the classroom.

“If we set that expectation, that failure is not an option, that you’re going to succeed and that we’re here for you as teachers and administrators to help you reach your goals, you’ll see a difference in that achievement gap,” Richardson said.

DaQuan Baldwin, a 19-year-old freshman at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, said that some young Black men often limit their own expectations and goals to the street corners and blue collar jobs they see in their hometowns.

“The people we grew up with, they’re hustling, getting things done, they didn’t go to school and that’s the real world to them,” Baldwin said. “You don’t go to college to get money.”

More than two-thirds of all Black children grow up in single-parent homes, and Baldwin was no exception. But a strong mother and his church pastor, Barbara Powell, kept him on a straight and narrow path to excellence.

Baldwin said he learned that the world was bigger than his small hometown of Hallsboro, N.C. while attending the Columbus College and Career Academy in Whiteville, N.C. The school offers trips to colleges and universities within the state. According to CCCA’s Web site, their students score an average of 1661 on the SAT, nearly 200 points higher than the 2010 state average.

Baldwin’s path led him to Fayettville State University in the spring of 2011 where he became enamored with the Bronco Male Initiative on Leadership and Excellence, a peer-to-peer mentor group focused on young Black men on campus. Through the Bronco MILE, the Hallsboro native met other high-achieving, young Black men with common goals. After completing the “Boosting Bronco Brothers” transition program, Baldwin hopes to join the Bronco MILE during the fall semester.

It doesn’t just take men, it takes guys your age that understand what’s going on in your day and time, Baldwin said

“Getting together with a group like (Bronco MILE) where you get to know guys, you get to know their personalities, you don’t mind opening up to them, you don’t mind taking chastisement. It’s good for motivation,” added Baldwin.

Gary Callis, a 17-year-old senior at Huguenot High School, Richmond, Va., scoffed at the notion that young people aren’t thoughtful enough to lead a discussion on closing the Black male achievement gap. He’s the lieutenant colonel of his Junior ROTC unit at his school and is responsible for a battalion of 230 students in Richmond Public Schools.

At the recent educational summit on African American male students, Caliss said we need to get away from offering students performance–based incentives and teach them about integrity and honor and doing the right thing when no one is looking.

We have to challenge the system that fails our Black male students, Caliss said.

“Contemporary Issues in Mentoring,” a study published by Public/Private Ventures in Philadelphia, reported that the yearly cost to mentor one youth is $1,114. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice, Delinquency and Prevention, it can cost taxpayers up to $64,000 per year to imprison that same young person.

Albert Dotson, Jr. past chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Inc. said he recognizes the role that young men who go through one of their mentoring programs can play in the future of the organization. Dotson’s group focuses on improving educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans.

“We’re creating the next generation of mentors in our community by getting them engaged in peer-to-peer mentoring,” Dotson said. “That has an immediate impact but also has a long-term effect.”

That’s what Caliss did when he took the reigns as president of his father’s 12-year-old mentorship program, The Children of Light.

“Peer mentoring is the difference between failure and success, because everybody needs a helping hand,” said Gary Callis, a senior at Huguenot High School, Richmond, Va.

Some students are going to fall by the wayside — that’s going to happen, Callis said.

“You might as well be the one with the eagle eye that says, ‘You know what, I see my brother’s in trouble — I should be the one to help him out.’”

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