Achieving Academic Equity and Excellence for Black and Brown Boys

The crisis with our Black and Brown boys continues to exist. Their life trajectories are crippled by intergenerational trauma caused by implicit bias and systemic racism. Black and Brown boys are disproportionately affected by implicit bias, systemic racism, and a lack of trauma-informed community support systems. They experience trauma at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. This disparity creates unimaginable challenges and keeps them from excelling academically, living their dreams, and becoming the amazing people they were born to be.

In an effort to address inequities in America’s largest school system, we are now seeing cities like New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Maryland and Washington, D.C. opening prominent Black-centric charter schools that focus on Black culture and Black and Brown boys. Parents are opting to enroll their sons in alternative schools explicitly designed for Black children.

These schools develop a set of evidence-based recommendations and strategies to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for Black and Brown boys and are committed to achieving academic equity and excellence for all students.

Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys

One school that replicates this model and is designed to improve the educational experiences and outcome of its students is Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys, an elite all-boys school for Black and Brown males. On Thursday, October 5th, a teacher and student from Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys were featured on the Sherri show. I was so impressed with the overall purpose and mission of this awesome Washington, D.C. institution and wanted the communities to know of the school’s existence.

Founded in 2018, Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys, according to its mission statement, is a “boy-friendly academic environment within which young men are equipped with the academic skills, social competencies, and personal development necessary to navigate life challenges, attend and complete the college of their choice, and return to become the premier agents of social change within and for the communities they serve.”

To obtain more insight about the vison, mission, and birth of the school, I met with its Director of Special Projects, Lenora Felder. Not only was I excited, but I could see and feel the enthusiasm and proudness exhibited by Ms. Felder as she spoke about her amazing school.

Engaging Black and Brown Boys

The catalyst for the school’s development and manifestation was born out of the vision of its CEO, Shawn Hardnett, and Rictor Craig, Director of Instruction/Principal. Ms. Felder shared that Hardnett and Craig conducted extensive research to get a sense of Black and Brown boys’ feelings about their experiences in school. Many indicated they weren’t feeling engaged in school.

Statesmen is a tuition free Charter School in D.C.’s Ward 8 where many of its students are from. However, enrollment is open to all D.C. Wards and is based on a lottery system. “Currently, approximately 310 students are enrolled in grades 4 through 8. We believe in “eliminate barrier” at our school, so we provide 5 uniforms per semester.” said Felder. “The school provides an elite experience for both students and faculty” explained Felder. At an all-boys school, students know that everyone around them is going, will go, or has gone through the same or similar experiences. The faculty and staff offer a wealth of support, comfort and guidance delivered in a peer-language that boys can relate to.

Schools like Statesmen, particularly those that consciously adapt to current data driven research, have considerable experience in understanding the learning and social needs of boys. Felder added, “Our core values include relationships. We have a mantra that says “We do relationships–I am my brother’s keeper– AND we know that this is hard. We believe that relationships are words and action–with each other, with our parents, with our students, and with the community.” In addition, we believe that by meeting people where they are, we build relationships with them that allow them to develop and become their best selves.

June Coxson interviewing Lenora Felder of Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys.
A “Boys Only” Environment

It is generally thought that boys and girls develop and learn differently. Physical and emotional maturity happens at a different rate and to a different extent for everyone, which can be a source of anxiety and comparison. When asked about the benefits of a boys only environment, Ms. Felder explained that a boys only environment “Eliminates distraction. Allows for a more focused learning experience and the students have a sense of belonging.”

Being in an all-boys education environment also lessens the social distractions and pressures of forming romantic relationships. Flirtations and the pressure to ‘be in a relationship’ can cause undue stress, and as girls generally reach puberty earlier than boys, boys can feel forced to mature faster than they would otherwise choose. An all-boys school allows them to build confidence and develop their personality. “They are able to stand up and be young men who are accountable for themselves,” added Felder.

Schools that are designed for Black and Brown boys also have culturally responsive teachers who work to affirm Black and Brown boys’ experiences through the content of their lesson plans. Culturally responsive, strengths-based teachers do not engage Black boys from a deficit perspective. Instead, they seek to learn about Black boys’ strengths, gifts, and talents. They incorporate books, visuals, and other materials that reflect Black history, lives, and points of view.

Creating Valuable Community Members

Felder explained that at Statesmen, “Kings 101 is the central course of our curriculum. The course teaches history with the perspective of Black and other marginalized people at the forefront.” This kind of exposure is critical to the boys’ development of a healthy sense of self and create opportunities to emphasize current examples of Black boys and men as valuable community members.

Trips are also incorporated into the learning experience. “Our boys go abroad knowing the contribution thar Black people contributed to the world. So, we go to trips like Europe and South Africa, they can speak to that.” She went on to say, “Our trips to Europe, the UK, and South Africa are a part of Critical Exposure. We interviewed 100 successful Black men who said that travel was transformational for them and forming their identity. Thus, our critical exposure program ensures thar our students become well-traveled and get to see that there is more out in the world than what they see in their neighborhoods.”

What is so awesome to me about this travel program is that the school pays all trip-related expenses. The school makes a herculean effort to get passports for their students. Felder said, “Many of the family dynamics call for us to locate parents, mediate parental conflicts and help parents file for full custody. We go the extra mile for our students because we believe that they are deserving and entitled.”

Support and Follow-up Provided to Students

Statesmen provides a myriad of support to its students, such as a complete trauma informed Therapy Wellness with a comprehensive wellness approach. There are affirmations where they lift each other up (they begin each class by saying something positive to other students), mindfulness sessions, yoga (where positions are associated with their feelings), singing bowls, and meditation. Some teachers use aromatherapy. Also, there are social workers that provide individual, group and family counselling.

When asked about the most important take-aways that the boys get, Felder expressed “The boys leave this school understanding that there is a place in the world for them that they can see. They have traveled the world, and they feel that they belong. They’ve seen the Mona Lisa and Big Ben and have pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. They know they belong wherever they go.”

The school has a Statesmen Alumni Association for students to receive additional support after graduating to further cultivate them as young men. Alums participate in community service and summer youth programs. “We want to ensure that we keep them close to us so that they continue to operate in the Statesmen Way,” said Felder.

I asked Lenora Felder about plans of replicating a school like the Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys for girls? Her response was, “Statesmen is designed to build strong boys, so that we don’t have to build broken men. We aspire to ensure that our boys become well-rounded men that are comparable partners for these future women.” 

Final Thoughts

The social and emotional well-being of Black and Brown boys must be our highest priority. Making sure we see them, hear them, and know them is the starting place for providing them with schooling that is humane, culturally responsive, and equitable. Culturally responsive practices and strategies, like those discussed here, support and promote Black and Brown boys’ positive identity development inside and outside of school. Our Black and Brown boys matter, and they need, want, and deserve nothing less.

Article featured image courtesy of @statesmenboys on Instagram.

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