Transforming the Educational Experience of Young Men of Color

By Nancy Barile

This past year, I took part in a project called the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI). TLI’s goal is for participating teachers to become leaders in the profession, developing the knowledge, skills, and core values to meet the demands of 21st-century teaching and learning.

Each teacher is required to take part in a field-based leadership project. I knew right away that I wanted my capstone to be “Transforming the Educational Experience of Young Men of Color (YMOC) at Revere High School.” I hoped to use this capstone as an opportunity to continue some work I had done with the College Board’s National Office of School Counselor Advocacy a few years ago.

The impetus for my capstone was the College Board’s 2010 report The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color, which revealed that a disturbingly large number of young men of color (defined here as African-American, Hispanic/Latino, and Southeast Asian) end up unemployed, incarcerated, or dead at an early age. Furthermore, the College Board’s Tenth Annual Report to the Nation (February 2014) included the fact that young men of color are underrepresented or totally absent in Advanced Placement classrooms. As a teacher in a low-income, urban school with many young men of color as students, these facts disturbed me greatly, and I knew that the findings had profound implications for my school and my students.

The goal for my capstone project was to explore ways in which educators at my school could ensure that the YMOC at Revere High would have culturally responsive support and safety nets for advancement through elementary, middle, high school, and beyond. I also wanted to uncover ways that YMOC could experience more rigor in schools, take Advanced Placement classes, and go on to two- and four-year colleges.

One of the first steps I took was to create a survey for 100 current Revere High School YMOC, which asked a variety of questions about their experiences with Advanced Placement, honors, and pre-AP courses. I also asked students what they felt made them academically successful, what challenges they faced, and what their goals were for higher education.

The survey alerted me to three major issues. First, many YMOC felt lost in high school and were unsure how to get into Advanced Placement classes, especially if they hadn’t been tracked in pre-AP and honors classes in middle school and in their early years of high school. Secondly, YMOC did not feel like they knew how to negotiate the college admissions process. Finally, YMOC thought they would feel better supported if our school had a club for them where they could ask questions, meet role models, share experiences, and address issues that were important to them.

Using Facebook, I also surveyed about 35 former Revere High students, asking them similar questions. That survey’s results echoed many of the issues from the other student survey, and it also pointed out the importance of family and teacher support for providing motivation to succeed academically.

For my next step, I asked my school’s STEM Director if he could provide a list of students who were designated as having “AP Potential” – a College Board tool which analyzes PSAT/NMSQT and state test scores to identify students likely to succeed on AP exams. When I received the list, I highlighted every YMOC and sent each of those students a letter inviting them to meet with me.

I was pleasantly surprised that nearly every single student who received a letter complied. During our meeting, I explained the meaning of AP Potential, and I asked students if they were currently enrolled or planning to enroll in AP classes. While some of the students were, quite a few were not. I explained the process, and after our conversations, many YMOC decided to enroll in an AP course or courses.

My capstone helped me to recognize the need to create culturally responsive support, safety nets, interventions, and recommendations to assist in the educational success of young men of color. As a result, I’ve worked to create partnerships with organizations like “Let’s Get Ready,” a free SAT prep course for low-income students, and “Year Up,” a career training program, to augment support and create pathways for YMOC.

I also started and secured funding for our school’s “Culture Club,” a club that brings our diverse student population together in order to share culture, improve student achievement, perform community service, create liaisons with higher education institutions and local businesses, and empower students by helping them to be connected to and feel ownership of their school. I specifically target YMOC for this club, and it has been very successful in helping students obtain information and gain the cultural capital necessary to help them succeed after high school.

I am also Advisor to the Future Teachers Club, which encourages students from diverse backgrounds to think seriously about the teaching profession and to develop the strong leadership traits that are found in high-quality educators. Once again, I look for young men of color to accept these positions, and these students have proven to be exceptional at connecting with and serving as wonderful role models for middle school youth.

The TLI experience has encouraged and supported my growth as an educator and as a teacher-leader. I did face challenges, however, including how to create an effective survey. If I were to create the YMOC surveys now, I would structure them much differently, including providing places for additional feedback. And while I believe that my capstone resulted in an increased number of YMOC taking AP classes at my school, I regret not keeping track of the data to let me know that exact number.

I am hoping to have the opportunity to share my findings with other educators in my high school so that we can work as a team to support the young men of color in our school. I truly won’t know how successful this project is until several years from now, but I am confident that it has already helped our students – and it will continue to do so as more teachers and counselors become educated on the issues facing young men of color today.

About the Author

Nancy Barile (@nancybarile), a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught English language arts at Revere High School in Revere, Massachusetts, for 20 years. She advises the Culture Club and Future Teachers Club and is an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College. A blogger for the Center for Teaching Quality, Nancy won the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award in 2013 and was one of the Top 50 Finalists for the Varkey Global Teacher Prize.