Narrowing disparity in success

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Community Night examines success of black students

By Kelly Cantrall

The city schools’ first Community Night is just the first step in creating a true partnership between the schools and the community meant to benefit young black students.

Elizabethtown Independent Schools hosted the event Monday night at Vaughn Reno Starks Community Center. The topic of discussion was the achievement gap between black and white students and how the gap could be addressed, specifically by building up community support for struggling students.

About 75 people in attendance heard from Rosz Akins, dean of students at Leestown Middle School in Lexington and the founder of Future Black Males Working, an organization that works with young black men on academics and character-building. The program has 135 students enrolled and several universities offer students who complete the program a full scholarship.

Elizabethtown has a program modeled on BMW called Brother to Brother.

Akins said she was excited about the possibility of a partnership between the community and EIS. She told the crowd the term “gap” was not accurate when describing achievements between black males and their counterparts in other race groups.

“It’s not a gap, it’s a gorge,” Akins said.

Mike Selvitelle, director of assessment for EIS, showed data depicting the gap. The rate of black students that performed at distinguished or proficient in reading on No Child Left Behind assessments was 60 percent in 2011, compared to 77 percent of white students. In math in 2011, it was 47 percent of black students compared to 68 percent of white students.

Akins shared statistics about black males’ performance in academics, such as that 40 percent of black men are functionally illiterate and there is one black man in college to every six in the prison system. She blamed these statistics on social issues such as the drug problem in the black community and the expectations for young black men, such as their dreams of playing sports instead of being successful academically.

“Nobody wants to own the basketball team, they all want to play on it,” she said.

In BMW, she has high expectations of her students. She exposes them to successful adults in the Lexington community and takes them on trips to colleges and other countries. Their parents also sign a contract promising to limit television and video games and to attend BMW parent nights. Her students score significantly higher in math and reading than other students and have an average ACT score of almost 23.

She told the audience the students just needed a relationship with someone who cares, and that it was up to them if the boys’ parents wouldn’t step up themselves.

“It’s in them you guys,” Akins said. “They just need somebody to believe in them and pull it out of them.”

Akins said Monday’s meeting is a good first step to improve the achievement gap, and parents need to begin enrolling their children in Brother to Brother to give them additional support.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.