September 28, 2017
On July 5, 2017 the New Jersey State School Board approved a regulation that would allow for single-gender charter schools – a decision that has the power to transform the lives of the young men of New Jersey for years to come. This policy decision provides the citizens with an opportunity to now create innovative educational institutions like their neighboring states of Pennsylvania and New York. It also opens the doors for change to take place in a system that has historically failed young men of color.
As a teacher in Atlantic City, I have seen firsthand the negative consequences that occur when effective educational resources do not exist for students; especially the boys. I have mentored many young men and have spoken to their mothers who many times are raising these children alone. I have listened to their pleas of something different that offers hope for their son to one day be a successful man. And it finally got to the point where talking was not enough. It was time to take action and the vision for the Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys began.
The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys will serve Atlantic City’s young men, led by male teachers and role models. And the community is responding with great support and excitement – hundreds of parents, community leaders, faith leaders and others have signaled their support for the school with letters and a survey with over 1,500 participants that has shown over 85% of those surveyed giving a positive response to the idea of a single-gender charter school like this in their neighborhood.
The data demonstrates that this is desperately needed – males are two times more likely to be classified into special education than females and graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates. On the 2016 New Jersey PARCC exam, females outperformed their male counterparts in every tested grade level in both Language Arts Literacy and Mathematics.
While economically advantaged families benefit from the choice of single-gender educational options, many of our working families cannot afford a private all-boys education option and are left with schools that do not serve the needs of their children. There are too many men who come out of our inner-city public schools ill-prepared to pursue a career, higher education, and the skills necessary to provide for a family. The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boy has an incredible opportunity to change these dynamics.
Innovative strategies including both early instrumental intervention and an intense male mentorship program are the types of practices that can improve the futures of young men in Atlantic City and elsewhere. These strategies coupled with a longer school day and a longer school year – are factors that have been proven to have a “meaningfully positive impact on student proficiency and improve upon a child’s entire (educational) experience,” according to the National Center on Time & Learning.
Students will also benefit from early reading interventions. Strategic planning and research will inform an individualized education plan for each and every student that is not reading on grade level. By using this approach, it is part of the school’s mission to close the literacy gap between males and females and have at least 85% of their students reading on or above grade level by the 3rd grade.
The New Jersey Department of Education has a huge opportunity to provide New Jersey with its first single-gender/single-purpose charter in the state’s history. The community members in Atlantic City are patiently waiting the results of the initial decision to allow the school to open next school year. Bringing a school like this to Atlantic City will provide our young men with a successful path towards a brighter future.