Black male students to get help in math, science

December 05, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Determined to improve the math and science achievement of black male students, the school system's Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) will offer academic mentors to students who need special help in those subjects.

The initiative is intended to improve students' grades in math and science, encourage them to enroll in high-level math and science courses, and increase scores on standardized tests.

"We know that African-American males have a great deal of potential," said Gloria Washington, a BSAP facilitator. "We know they can learn mathematics and science."

Called "Focus: The African-American Male Learner," the program was prompted by this year's Maryland Functional Test results, which showed that 50.5 percent of the county's African-American ninth-grade males passed the math test.

That was the poorest performance of any racial or gender group in the county on the test, one of a battery of state tests students must pass to graduate from high school.

"When stats are cited, they confirm [for some people] our male students are problems and hoodlums and are not capable of learning; I would like to say that is not our position," Ms. Washington said.

The mentoring initiative is part of the MASSI model (Motivation, Assessment, Support, Structure and Instruction) developed last school year by the school system's human relations office to make the system more sensitive to the needs and problems of different cultural groups.

Donald F. Wallace, a consultant with Wallace and Prior Consultants in Columbia, a group that develops self-esteem programs for blacks, and Charconn Rice, a student at Howard Community College, have been contracted to serve as mentors in the new program.

"We see this as being one more way to really support African-American students in general . . . especially African-American males," said Patti Caplan, school spokeswoman.

The program, which may be in operation by Christmas, was formally announced at a BSAP meeting at Wilde Lake High School on Wednesday night. At the meeting, state Del. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, discussed a report on Maryland black males.

The program will assign Mr. Wallace and Mr. Rice to an expected 10 to 15 interested students. The two mentors will meet with students for structured study time at a high school still to be determined. The meetings will take place during the students' regular advisory or study periods.

In addition, the students will meet with their mentors individually or in a group on the weekends and after school.

Eventually, the program could be expanded to include middle and elementary school students, with the older students serving as peer role models for the younger pupils.

Ms. Washington said the idea is to have older men serve as inspiration for students whose teachers sometimes have low expectations of them.

In addition to working with the students on academics, the mentors are to monitor the students' progress, listen to them and talk openly with them about their concerns.

"Something is happening with the brothers within the school system that is preventing them from learning math and science," Mr. Rice said. "It's not that they can't learn. We know they can learn. . . . Our job is to figure out what's happening within the system."

The Wilde Lake graduate said it may be that teachers and students don't understand one another, or that the students aren't motivated because "the system is Eurocentric" and plays down the history and culture of African-Americans.

Mr. Wallace said he will reinforce what the students are learning in class and explain how they can better manage their time so they can improve their grades.

He also will find practical ways to make math and science interesting for the students -- illustrating the technical and mathematical work required to build the pyramids, for example.

Mr. Wallace noted that black students in the county already are motivated in the area of reading.

He cited state functional reading test scores showing that 93.1 percent of ninth-grade black males and 98.0 of ninth-grade black females passed the functional reading test. A total of 97.9 percent of all county ninth-graders passed that test.

"The thing of it is to get them to read technological data and understand them," Mr. Wallace said.

If students can listen to a song once and quickly learn the lyrics and student-athletes can learn complex sports plays, he said, "math and science should be a breeze."

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