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National Group Seeks Model Schools Serving Boys of Color

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From guest blogger Lesli A. Maxwell

It was a little over five years ago that a small group of school leaders—united around the conviction that they had to build education programs to meet the academic and social and emotional needs of African-American boys—morphed into what is now the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, or COSEBOC.

Since then, COSEBOC, based in Cambridge, Mass., has been singularly focused on what executive director Ron Walker describes as "changing the narrative" about boys of color. When reports come out, year after year, detailing the lagging academic achievement of African-American and Latino boys compared with their white and Asian peers, and their overrepresentation in out-of-school suspension and expulsion statistics, COSEBOC has stayed firmly fixed on the "affirmative development of black and brown boys," Walker said. "We are well aware of the challenges; we are focused on how to confront them."

To that end, COSEBOC has, over the last five years, sought to bring together the best minds and most committed practitioners when it comes to working successfully with African-American and Latino boys. The organization is platform agnostic when it comes to the schools themselves—they can be regular public schools, charter schools, private schools, co-ed, single gender. They just have to be committed to practices that keep minority boys engaged in school, support their social and emotional learning, and provide high-quality, rigorous academic content and instruction. The group developed a series of standards and practices, and every year, it convenes school leaders from around the country to share promising practices.

And now, COSEBOC is searching for schools—ranging from prekindergarten through high school—that are demonstrating success with black and Latino boys to highlight through its awards program next year. The group is inviting school leaders to apply for the special recognition, which will come with a $10,000 award, and an opportunity to share their practices with other educators, Walker told me. Earlier this year, four schools—Bedford Academy High School in Brooklyn, Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, Fenway High School in Boston, and Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn—won COSEBOC's inaugural awards.

To be eligible, at least 25 percent of a school's male student body must be minority (African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, or multiracial). The selection process will involve a panel of judges who will do site visits, review data on academics, as well as other measures such as cultural competence, Walker said.

Walker, a former social studies teacher and principal, told me that the schools doing the best serving black and Latino boys share some common features.

One, he said, is a leader with a deep understanding of instruction who constantly "leads a dialogue about the best approaches to educating all students" and "who knows how to analyze success strategies and replicate them." These leaders also "study the data all the time and use it to change or strengthen practice, but they don't become straitjacketed by it," he said. All the educators in these schools "know these children, their circumstances, and their families," he said, and they work as hard on engaging parents as they do engaging students.

Academic rigor, bolstered by a "high-belief quotient" among everyone in the school community—school staff, parents, and students themselves—that black and Latino boys will "make it to college no matter if they come from a single-parent household," is a major ingredient, he said, along with an educational program that puts strong emphasis on social and emotional learning.

The schools also must have a zero tolerance for zero tolerance, he said. "These are places looking to lift kids up, not push them out." Counseling is a key priority, and students are involved in setting the ground rules for discipline. "Their voices are heard when it comes to figuring out how to create environments that are safe, supportive and enriching for them," Walker said.

Another hallmark of schools succeeding with black and Latino boys, according to Walker: a culturally competent staff. That, he said, means educators "know more than that students come from diverse backgrounds." It means you have a deep understanding of your own world view, he said, and an understanding of the norms and values that students bring with them to school.

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