Woodland Hills, Propel schools get grants to aid black males

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The Woodland Hills School District and the Propel system of charter schools were awarded a grant from the Heinz Endowments last week to implement programs to help academic achievement among black male students.

Seven districts with a high proportion of black and/or low-income students were invited to apply for the grant, which was awarded as part of the Endowments' African-American Men and Boys Task Force. Woodland Hills and Propel each was awarded a $750,000 grant to be disbursed over two years.

Forty-nine percent of the Woodland Hills graduating class of 2010 was white; 49 percent was black, according to a news release from the district. But 76.5 percent of the dropouts that year were black, and the rate of black male dropouts was 14 percent higher than black female dropouts, the release said.

Woodland Hills will spend the next six months developing a detailed framework for the program and identifying a project director, who must be a black man, according to Woodland Hills assistant superintendent Alan Johnson.

The programs at Woodland Hills and Propel will be built around the Whiting Scholar Identity Model, which looks at a student's whole environment and encourages the "four pillars" in a student's life -- the family and home; peers and friends; the school; and the community -- to help the student with self-improvement, self-efficacy and motivation, among other things.

In Woodland Hills, the model will be implemented beginning with a summer program in 2012, after the district identifies black male students in grades 6 through 12 to participate.

Mr. Johnson said that the program will not be held after school or on Saturdays.

"We want them to understand that this is really core to what we're trying to do," he said. "We're trying to make this like an academic program so they understand that as you move forward in school, things get a lot harder and more rigorous."

The Foundation for Indiana University of Pennsylvania received a $361,500 grant under the same program to recruit black men into the teaching profession.

"Our long-term dream is [that] those young men come back to us as teachers," Mr. Johnson said.

Propel, which has eight schools throughout Allegheny County, plans to use the grant money to extend and expand existing programs.

"We have been very happy with our success with all students, but particularly with African-American students," said Propel Superintendent Carol Wooten. She said black students in Propel schools are 60 percent more likely to test at grade level than black students in the district where they come from.

Like in Woodland Hills, the Propel program will be built around the Scholar Identity Model and will be planned over the summer. The formal program for students in grades 5 through 12 will begin in August 2012, according to Derric Heck, Propel's director of strategic initiatives.

Gilman Whiting, the director of Vanderbilt University's Scholar Identity Institute and creator of the Whiting Scholar Identity Model, said it can be used with any group of students, but it's often used with black males.

Mr. Whiting, who has a doctorate in education from Purdue University, said the first step in the model is self-efficacy.

"I have to believe in myself that I can be here every day," he said. "That I can participate in class every day."

Students are encouraged to read assignments, prepare for exams and move onto the next level. If a student doesn't believe he can do it, he won't do it, Mr. Whiting said, adding that self-fulfilling prophecies often come into play when black students are told to focus on athletics instead of academics.

He said the model looks at the community to make a difference in the lives of young black men.

"They must engage the parents, they must engage the community, they must engage the coaches and the teachers, they must engage the administration," Mr. Whiting said.

He and his colleague, Donna Ford, will consult with Woodland Hills and Propel as they prepare to implement the model, Mr. Whiting said.

He said that the meaning of education has to be made real for the students to close the achievement gap.

"Without some kind of systematic way of approaching a community, a whole school system, then we keep doing piecemeal fixing, and we're losing more than we're actually saving," Mr. Whiting said.

He added that the Scholar Identity Model is "intensive," and implementing it in schools takes work.

"If they don't believe, it won't work," he said. "If they don't believe in the possibility of these guys making it on to college and being successful, then they're just going through the motions because they were told to."

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613.


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