Promoting academics among black males

Education: Motivational speaker Mychal Wynn speaks at Mount Hebron High School about bridging the racial achievement gap.

Ellicott City

August 25, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

When an African-American boy walks into a gifted-and-talented class, he might get the same funny feeling that Mychal Wynn's son reported to him, the motivational speaker told hundreds of Howard County teachers yesterday at Mount Hebron High School.

"Everybody's looking at me," Wynn's son told him. "They thought I was lost."

"In a school 46 percent black, he was the only [African-American boy] in the class," Wynn said.

Wynn's message is that everyone in school has the power to influence a child.

"Black boys don't know how to navigate their way through school," he said. "If you have a black boy with enough courage to come into the [gifted-and-talented] classroom, he needs someone to encourage him."

Wynn, of Marietta, Ga., was brought to Howard County by the leaders of seven schools (Mount Hebron High School; Patapsco and Mount View middle schools; and Hollifield Station, St. John's Lane, Manor Woods and Waverly elementary schools) to encourage teachers to promote academic achievement among male African-American students. The Horizon Foundation, a nonprofit community wellness program in Howard County, paid his $4,500 fee.

Wynn, 48, spoke to teachers first, then to a select group of about 25 students representing the seven schools, who were assigned to read one of his 16 books. He also spoke to community leaders in Clarksville and was to address parents last night at Mount Hebron.

Darlene Wilkins, who brought her 12-year-old son, Michael, to hear Wynn talk about the importance of taking hard courses and plotting an early course to college, said, "It's good to hear somebody else repeat what I say. He couldn't have said it better." She reinforced another of his messages: that kids can tune out a parent but hear the same wisdom from another adult loud and clear.

With 140 African-American students, Mount Hebron has 29 black students in advanced courses, Wynn said. "Do we want to see a change?"

A racial achievement gap is in evidence in Howard County, where last school year the county's combined third- and fifth-graders scored 87 percent proficiency in reading and 85 percent in math. Broken down by race, African-Americans were 20 points below the 91 percent reading score of white students, and 22 points lower than whites' 89 percent in math, according to county school officials.

Wynn said a key for children is developing a passion - whether it be for academics, arts or sports. And adults need to show children how to use that passion early in their school career.

"Many children and parents do not understand how passion can lead you through public education," he said.

Instead of ignoring a 10-year- old's interest in drawing or poetry, encourage it, Wynn said. Infuse African-American boys with the idea they are going to college, and as they get older, teach them about the important standardized tests and how to maximize their scores and bolster their school resumes, Wynn said.

Signing up for honors courses can trigger that uncomfortable sense of cultural isolation that made Wynn's son feel out of place in advanced courses.

That's why, Wynn said, boys need an adult to push them and guide them on a road that will lead to college. Custodian Adrienne Rucker, 46, nodded frequently as she and her African-American co-workers listened intently to Wynn's remarks.

"It's very touching. You got kids who know all about what he's saying," she said, describing how African-American students sometimes ask her advice on various things. "We all touch their lives in certain ways."

Rosalind Sheppard, 37, a school psychologist at Hollifield Station Elementary, said, "That was just a really inspiring message. The challenge is to really apply it," she said.

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