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Local programs address black boys’ high drop-out rates

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 6/7/2013, noon

This fall, 11 Atlanta Public Schools graduates will continue their educations at Morehouse College through the new  “Dreams to Teach” program. The students were among a pilot group chosen as high school juniors to pursue summer study at Morehouse and continue their college enrichment as they completed their high school education.

Those who successfully completed the program had the opportunity to receive  $15,000 scholarships to pursue teaching careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They will begin their journey as undergraduates at Morehouse.

This summer 28 rising seniors from Atlanta Public Schools will follow in their footsteps. The program is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

“We wrote a grant because of the number of black males that are dropping out of high school and who are not going to college,” said Cynthia Trawick, grant administrator of Morehouse’s Dreams to Teach program. “We want black males to continue to graduate and go to college and encourage others to seek out a [science, technology, engineering and math] education.”

Drake, one of the Dreams to Teach scholarship recipients, said the program kept him focused on graduation and improved his grades. Because of summer classes and Saturday Academy sessions at Morehouse,  Drake said his math grade rose from a 70 percent to an 89 percent. 

Some of his classmates struggled in high school and failed to graduate.

“A lot of them got distracted and made the choice not to succeed,” he said. “I kept the ball rolling. It was like I was in school year round. I haven’t had a summer break. The work at Morehouse was college level. It kept me a step ahead of everyone else.”

Black male students who get off track in school can face stiff consequences for acting out, which could impact their chances of a timely graduation. 

School discipline data in several Georgia districts show that a disproportionate number of minority students are being punished with out-of-school suspension.

According to reports on student discipline in Georgia schools released by the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, African-American students were consistently more than three times as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than other students. (The study also found that males of all races received two-thirds of out-of-school suspensions during 2010, the period under review.)

“Poor African-Americans were markedly more likely to receive [out-of-school suspensions] than more affluent African American students,” the report stated.

Jen Falk, co-founder of the Gwinnett Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline, is training parents across metro Atlanta to push for positive discipline for students who commit minor infractions so they can keep their graduations from being derailed.

“What is happening is that students of color, because of minor discipline infractions are experiencing a great number of days out of school and they can lag behind on academic credits,” Falk said. “Every day out of school is a day that your child is not learning.”

Schools should be doing more to help students graduate, not sentencing them to time at home on the family couch or in juvenile detention centers for non-violent offenses, Falk said.

Discipline infractions can mask a greater problem that is keeping some students from graduating on time.

Some black males would rather cause a disruption in class than reveal that they don’t understand a lesson.

“Respect is huge so they mask their lack of knowledge,” Marks of Morehouse said. “A good teacher can see through that. ”

Marquez Hall, who gradated with an “A” average from Benjamin E. Mays High in Atlanta, says it was the support of good teachers and family that saw him through. While some of Hall’s peers skipped classes and dropped out, he stayed after school to get help even when he had good grades.

Hall’s dedication landed him with Drake among the cadre of scholarship students who are training to be future science, technology, engineering and math educators. Hall thanks his biggest cheerleaders for contributing to his success: his church family at Mount Olive Baptist, his mother Angela Hall, his grandmother Ruby Dozier, and Morehouse College.

Black males “need a pep rally of people encouraging them,” Hall said. “If they don’t have any encouragement, they aren’t going to want to do well.”