I recently had an opportunity to sit on a virtual panel with the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males. The panel was part of the 2020 Annual Black Males Conference. This year, the focus was education. The conference emphasized that too few Black males are graduating from high school and attending colleges and universities. Nearly two out of every three Black males who did not graduate experienced suspension, expulsion, or retention periods while in school. The panel’s discussion was centered around four questions:
- What changes need to occur regarding suspension, expulsion, and retention policies impacting Black males in the schools?
- What are some keys to developing a blueprint to improve education and academic achievement?
- The pandemic and COVID-19 may increase the academic achievement gap. What should be instituted to close the gap and ensure equity for virtual and distance learning?
- Is the current model for K-12 education outdated or ill-suited for Black males?
While these were great questions, an attendee posed a question that I believe took the conversation deeper. “What needs to happen in schools to ensure Black boys do not lose interest as they get older and drop out?”
My simple answer was for Black boys to get early wins in school. Just like school, Black boys start sports at an early age. Even if they are not good, they stick with it, and they work hard. I believe it is attributed to a few things. An obvious motivation being the sizeable financial gain later in life if they are part of the select few who go pro. There is also the notion that if you work hard, you can always improve. The other is something that I believe we can apply to education when it comes to Black boys and even all kids in school. The mindset that we must help kids achieve wins early in school. When a child plays basketball at a young age, they see many early wins that keeps them motivated to play and stick with it. They see early wins with being part of a team; they see early wins with just playing; they also see early wins of the pride playing the sport. What if in school kids saw the same early wins?
Could we eliminate the dropout rate if, early in school, kids saw the benefits of finding lifelong friendships? Could we improve the overall school outcomes for kids if they saw school as a fun place that made them happy? What if kids saw the pride and excitement for them being in school by parents and staff showing up to their school events? Imagine how, as kids matriculated through school, their mindset would become as they got older and school became harder. What if kids saw at an early age the potential for a better future? These are the early wins that kids need if we are going to improve the outcomes.
I am appreciative of the panel and this question raised by an attendee. As an elementary school principal with students who have their first real school experience in kindergarten, my goal is to ensure they get those early wins. I hope the early wins they experience in my building will carry them through the rest of their educational experience.