EducationLocalWilliam J. Ford

Maryland Seeks to Boost Academic Achievement Among Black Boys

John Jenifer remains pleased with the education his sixth-grade son, Zamari, receives at Robert R. Gray Elementary School in Capitol Heights and hopes it continues when his 12-year-old son enters middle school.

In addition, Jenifer believes the Prince George’s County Public School system should offer hands-on programs including information technology, automotive technology and electrical certification.

“Give these kids more opportunities and more job sources directing them into fields where there is more hands-on learning because not everyone is going to college,” said Jenifer who lives in Capitol Heights. “Why not bring someone in from Pepco and offer an apprenticeship program for a kid coming out of high school? We should have more [programs like these] especially for our Black boys.”

A report released by the Maryland Department of Education gives recommendations leading to improved student achievement among Black males which focus on social, emotional and behavioral support, recruiting and training educators and revisions in school curricula and pedagogy.

The Jenifer family from left to right: Zyierre Smith, Raychelle Smith-Jenifer, John Jenifer and Zamari Jenifer standing in front of his mother. (Photo courtesy of John Jenifer)
The Jenifer family from left to right: Zyierre Smith, Raychelle Smith-Jenifer, John Jenifer and Zamari Jenifer standing in front of his mother. (Photo courtesy of John Jenifer)

The proposals come from a task force that developed a nearly 100-page document, “Transforming the Culture of Maryland’s Schools for Black Boys.”

The document can be read in full at https://bit.ly/3vt6avR.

According to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC], test scores for Black boys in the third through eighth grades represented the lowest “proficient” rating at 12 percent in 2015 and 16 percent in 2019.

In comparison, about 14 percent of Black female students recorded as proficient in 2015 with an increase to 18 percent in 2019. All other students scored proficient from 37 percent in 2015 to 41 percent in 2019.

Meanwhile, high school graduation rates for a four-year cohort through 2019, stood at 81 percent for Black males while Black females and other students stood at 88 percent. During the same period, Black male students recorded the highest expulsion and suspension rates.

“This can no longer wait. Not one more month. Not one more year. We must do something now,” said Vermelle Greene, the task force chairperson during a state board of education meeting April 27. “If our Black boys are in crisis, so are we all.”

The state board unanimously supports the report’s recommendations with the specific goal of utilizing portions of the document to facilitate the development of pilot programs available to students who attend any of the state’s 24 school systems.

Some of the recommendations bear significant similarities to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – the massive multi-billion education plan lawmakers approved to increase teacher salaries, hire school counselors and enhance career and college readiness.

The task force report suggests that school leaders collect data to confirm the need to appoint district-wide or school-based mentoring coordinators. Funding sources could come from social-emotional learning grants, corporate donations, local government grants or the state.

The report cites nationally recognized mentoring programs including the Minority Achievement Committee, also known as MAC Scholars, based in Shaker Heights, Ohio and established in 1990. High-achieving Black boys in the Cleveland suburb serve as role models to their peers.

Shameka Mackall of Upper Marlboro agrees mentorship helps, adding that it should be incorporated in all schools.

“When my son was at a French Immersion school, he had a mentor who would drop by the school but he was doing that on his own time,” said Mackall whose son will graduate from Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. “An all-boys mentoring program would help these young men.”

William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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