Last weekend I attended a benefit breakfast at a community center in the community where I teach. During that event, the center's executive director called all the recent high school graduates to the front of the room. There must have been 25 or 30 graduates who stepped to the front of that gathering. Each was asked to name the high school from which he or she graduated and the college s/he will be attending in the fall.
But as those seniors stood up front, I noticed a disturbing reality. Among them were very few African-American boys. The African-American girls outnumbered the boys 5 to 1.
That reality struck me hard. Why are so few of our African-American boys completing high school?
The statistics bear out the reality I saw that day. According to America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline, a 2007 Children's Defense Fund (CDF) report,
The statistics are frightening, indeed. But I also believe that we in education can do something to change the statistics. As EduCarers, we know the way to change the direction of those statistics is to place an extremely high emphasis and value on developing strong relationships with our students. We must consistently speak words of hope to all the children in our learning environments.
Last year, my school's principal provided an opportunity for me to attend a workshop presented by Dr. Allen Mendler. The workshop experience was excellent, but one part of that workshop stood out. Its message was one that I think about often.
Mendler shared with workshop participants the top three reasons why students drop out of high school and enter into lives of hopelessness and despair. Those reasons are that
As I think seriously about the points Dr. Mendler surfaced, I am led to wonder, Why does dropout prevention always begin in middle school or high school? To my way of thinking, dropout prevention needs to begin on the level that I have taught for the last 31 years -- kindergarten.
As EduCarers, we must consistently focus on positive relationships with children, have children see the value of education, and speak in motivating and encouraging ways about life.
We must view developing positive self-esteem and positive self-image as equal in importance to academics.
We must teach decision-making skills and share with our children the benefits of setting goals and having a vision of what it takes to be successful in school and in life.
If we do those things -- if we focus on developing the whole child -- then our children will grow into positive and productive citizens for today and tomorrow.
I am reminded of a boy who was placed in my classroom during the middle of the past school year. David (not his real name) was a five-year-old African-American boy who had presented many behavioral challenges to the teacher in his kindergarten classroom at another school. Now that he had transferred to our school and been placed in my classroom, it was my challenge to do everything I could to help David succeed.
The first thing I did was to sit down with David and tell him that I cared about him very much.
The words and thoughts of another principal in our district, Jeffrey Blowe, often guide me as I talk with my students. "To get to the child's mind you must first travel through the heart," says Blowe.
Next, I took time to share with David our classroom rules and expectations. I explained them to him in a caring and compassionate tone of voice.
During those first weeks in our classroom, I frequently reminded David of his potential. I sent David consistent messages, such as
"You are smart."
"You are intelligent."
"You're on the way to being a great first grader."
"You speak so well. I'll bet you are going to grow up and be a Supreme Court judge just like Thurgood Marshall." (I said that as I pointed to the picture of Thurgood Marshall that hangs on my classroom wall.)
I also made it a point to call David's Mom often to share good news about his adjustment in my classroom.
For the balance of the school year, I never had to refer David to the office for any discipline issue. And at the end of the year he scored about average on our state tests.
I honestly believe that David will do well in first grade.
So why did David succeed after having such a difficult start to his kindergarten year? Why did he adjust so well to a new classroom when a midyear transition should have thrown the boy for a loop?
I know, in my heart, that the difference for David was the relationship factor. I could not pass up this opportunity to help David succeed, to help him develop positive self-esteem. I could not let David down. I knew that if my mental model was one in which David succeeded, then he would succeed.
We EduCarers love what we do. We see the opportunity to program young minds in positive directions. We understand that it is up to us to leave a strong imprint on the lives of our students. If our mental model sees successful children, and if we work diligently to instill that sense of success in our students, they will succeed.
We know that we can do this.
We know that we can turn the statistics around.
For young African-American boys like David.
For all our students.
The Power Is in You!
Carlton Ashby can be emailed at email@example.com.
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