Dozens of people discussed how to better engage and advance male students of color Tuesday at the first Community Action Summit run by Dayton Public Schools’ Office for Males of Color.
The summit included sessions on mentorship training, law enforcement issues, making the transition to college and more. Keynote speaker Kevin Washington, assistant professor of psychology at Howard University, talked about working to draw out students’ innate talents.
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“The message was about being able to see the power and potential within those who have been despised or dispossessed in our society,” Washington said. “More importantly, it’s understanding, how do you teach to that particular genius within.”
DPS’ Office for Males of Color, and the city of Dayton’s “men of color” group try to work together. Jeff Mims, a former DPS leader who is now a city commissioner, helps lead the city’s efforts.
On the heels of the state report card release, which showed low test scores in Dayton Public Schools, Mims said it’s crucial for educators to find ways to engage students in challenging academic material via personal connections.
“The urgency intensified when we look at the scores of our young people,” Mims said. “The scores measure a lot of things, but not the totality of who you are. … And if you use your God-given talents and skills, you can achieve that (required) level and surpass it.”
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John Rogers, director of DPS’ efforts, said building trust with students is a first priority, because too many students are used to people letting them down. Rogers said DPS facilitators work with students on decision making, conflict resolution and emotional development.
“This makes them feel better about school because school becomes a safer place when there’s someone they know they can count on not just to instruct, but to be there as mentor and confidante,” Rogers said.
At a wrap-up session at Tuesday’s summit, participants talked about needed next steps. Tom Lasley of Learn to Earn Dayton said despite earnest hard work, area schools have not significantly improved academic achievement for black male students the past few years.
The suggestions were numerous. Some called for increased focus on building students’ self-worth, arguing that they have been too conditioned to believe black male students will fail. Others said the community needs to set higher expectations for students, or build more parent/family involvement.
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Mims cited the need for better follow-up from school officials after “Men of Color” events. Others suggested motivating students with lifetime financial data about the impact of a college degree.
But there was also a call for streamlining that list of concerns and focusing on one shared goal, so all supporters of black male students could throw their efforts in the same direction.
Washington talked about whether the content schools are using really connects with students.
“Curriculum that is able to teach to the various racial groups is important, or even having content that they can draw upon that says I can achieve,” Washington said. “As teachers begin to bring in content that affirms the reality of all students, they’re influencing the success of their students not only in the classroom, but for a lifetime.”