James E. Payne knows what success can look like for Buffalo’s young black male students.
He and other leaders with the local chapter of 100 Black Men of America have seen it on their trips to the Eagle Academy in New York City.
Now, they want to emulate that success for students here by pulling strategies from the Eagle model or possibly by opening a charter school with a similar program.
“We’re considering it,” Payne said. “We don’t want to sit here and say the public school system is failing our children. We came to the conclusion that traditional public schools have a place. But also there are alternatives.”
The Eagle academies are part of a network of schools in New York City and Newark that are devoted to educating at-risk boys from the inner city.
The schools were founded by 100 Black Men of America, which is an international organization that aims to improve educational and economic opportunities for men of color.
Like their umbrella organization, the local chapter of 100 Black Men has long run a Saturday mentoring program to connect young black men with positive role models.
But the group recognizes that the mentoring effort only goes so far in meeting the need to get students on the right path early in their lives.
The group’s leaders have been exploring various options to expand their efforts, and they will put together a plan for moving forward in the next year or so. At the very least, they want to extend their mentoring program so that it runs year-round.
Part of the group’s initiative will likely build on the its work trying to increase parent involvement, recognizing the critical role families play.
The group has targeted fathers in particular, encouraging them to become a part of their children’s lives and mentor those who may not have a father or other adult male role model at home.
Buffalo school officials acknowledge they could do a better job working with the community to find solutions to help young black men succeed. And often times programs that work for a particular subgroup of students will result in improvements across the board.
“Buffalo must have the courage to initiate conversations about race, cultural responsiveness, poverty and chronic segregation,” said Will Keresztes, the district’s interim superintendent. “We can’t do this alone as a school district because we don’t have the expertise. The community must become an active partner and we must listen.”
Part of that strategy might include creating more small schools with programs focused on particular interests, such as arts or career paths.
“Developing a powerful strategy for small, interest-based high schools should be a top priority for our district,” Keresztes said. “Many challenges faced by students are mitigated when they become inspired at their schools. We must create interest-based programs that are full of inspiration and small enough to meet individual needs effectively.”