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Swagger in Schools

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October 03, 2013 01:40 pm

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The following is a post from Renée Hagerty, a policy and advocacy intern at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Oakland School District is trying to lower dropout rates among African American males by putting the “swag” back in schools, says Chris Chatman, the executive director of the Oakland Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA).

“When we fail black boys, Latino boys, whomever it is, there is a cost attached to that, incarceration, social services, added police protection, insurance rate. The litany goes on and on and on, and it is a huge price tag,” states Junious Williams, the CEO of the Urban Strategies Council, which partnered with the Oakland School District to form the Office of African American Male Achievement. “When you invest up front and you make those boys successful, you turn that, you invert that.”

Started in 2010, AAMA focuses on ending the epidemic of African American males dropping out of Oakland, California schools. Their efforts include several targeted in-school programs, awards ceremonies, and systematic and community based supports for middle and high school African American males. All of these interventions aim to reengage young men in their education.

Mark Alexander, a principal at one of the schools employing the holistic support structures encouraged by AAMA, said in a recent interview with PBS: “I know that it only takes a few people to just give someone the encouragement that they need to really thrive.” He may have been speaking from personal experience, but this idea of giving at-risk students what they need to succeed at school perfectly sums up the intention of AAMA in the Oakland district. As a result, some of the participating schools have reported fewer discipline problems, better grades, and improved attendance among their young men since beginning the interventions.

If you are an education professional, the connection school environments have to graduation rates is probably not news to you. Just last month, the Alliance for Excellent Education released the first in a series of reports on school climate. That report defines “positive school climate” as an environment that reflects a commitment to meeting and developing the academic, social and emotional needs of every student.

Efforts in Oakland to decrease the dropout rate fit well within the positive school vision illustrated in the graphic and recommended in the Alliance report. They also run counter to more traditional models of reward/punishment that have been shown to push out struggling students. In a new report issued by the Alliance, school discipline measures are analyzed in depth, and effective models are recommended. To read more about how to transform school climates in positive ways, check out that report: Climate Change: Implementing School Discipline Practices that Create a Positive School Climate.

 

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