I always take time each year to reflect on the true meaning of Black History Month. Martin Luther King Junior paid a monumental price and that is why we can celebrate Black History Month. I am very thankful for that. I often ponder many other things as well, like how far we have come and where we are going. One thing that always leaves me feeling blue is the number of African American youths who have fallen through the cracks. Most of these youths drop out of school because they do not have the right parental support. How unfortunate is that? There must be a way to make a difference in the lives of these youths.
The sobering truth, as harsh as it may appear, is that unless someone steps in to make a difference most of these youths will end up in jail.
This year of 2011 I am feeling extremely hopeful, because at the school where I currently teach, my principal, Mr. Allen Smith, has taken his leadership to a level I have never seen before. I applaud him very loudly. To start off the school year, Mr. Smith had the faculty return to school two days early. During the two days the staff sat through a very powerful training program called: Education Done the Right Way…Through Relationships.
What do relationships mean to the student? Perhaps school is the only place where he or she feels safe and where an adult actually does care about his or her wellbeing. In order to teach the students at our school, the faculty needs to reach out and build relationships with them. A great leader sees the need and finds ways to help meet those needs. This is why I so appreciate Mr. Allen Smith: he saw a need and made sure to set up his faculty with the necessary training so they can provide the best for all students.
A word of caution: Building relationships does not mean putting into full use the prejudice of low expectations. The last thing we need to do is to feel sorry for these students and let them get away with murder. One can build relationships and still hold the students accountable for their actions. It is the loving thing to do, because anything else will set up these students for failure later on when they become adults. I love Denzel Washington’s statement in the movie Remember the Titans, where he said: “Do not patronize these kids; you will set them up for failure.”
It is never easy to reach every single student. There are a few who are definitely set in their ways and they make it very difficult for the teacher to teach. At the onset of second semester, I had a difficult time with a few students. I had resigned myself to thinking that perhaps there was no way I could help these students. Well, much to my delight, Mr. Allen Smith flew in a guest speaker, Jason L. Perry from Oak Tree Leadership, to speak to the faculty. What Mr. Perry shared infused me with a renewed vigor to reach out to these difficult students. Once again through this training I learned that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. Education is about relationship and friendship. I applied what I learned and thus was able to reach these difficult students.
Mr. Smith has taken his unrelenting desire to help the students at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College to an even higher level by hiring a new assistant principal who in my opinion has the students’ best interest at heart. Mr. Nick Dawkins, a Belfer scholar who also attended a summer programme in literature at Oxford University, is doing an outstanding job helping the teachers with behavioral issues. Just last week, he held a special meeting with a group of boys who were making it extremely difficult to teach.
The meeting proved to be very productive because the boys returned to class with a new attitude. They sat down and completed their work. Today, after a four-day holiday weekend, the same students returned to class, sat down, and did their work.
I am feeling very hopeful that at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College in Denver, Colorado Martin Luther King’s dream is being realized. As a school we strive to make each day a success. Yes! We do encounter challenges, but we never give up.
So in celebration of Black History Month I want to say thank you to Mr. Allen Smith and Mr. Nick Dawkins for their great leadership.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr