On Tuesday, six education and social justice experts discussed the benefits that an all-male school for Black and Latino boys would offer New Haven.
The brothers of New Haven’s chapter of Omega Chi Psi hosted the community conversation, which focused on improving educational outcomes for boys of color in the city and drew a crowd of more than 60 community members, including half of the Board of Education, Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 and Mayor Toni Harp, the current BOE president. The discussion, hosted at King/Robinson Magnet School, centered on the ways opening an all-boys school for young men of color would foster a greater sense of community and love of learning among students.
“For boys in New Haven, given the difficulties we have in our community around gangs and violence, we really need to give them a safe place — a place where they can learn and test their intellectual muscle without worrying about whether they’re judged for the color of their skin,” Harp said.
Before the panel discussion opened, Omega Chi Psi brother Glen Worthy showed the audience a news clip highlighting the success of the Eagle Academies for Young Men: a network of all-male secondary schools for students of color living in high-crime urban areas in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Cornelius Finley, a panelist who works for an education nonprofit, described his “life-changing” experience at Morehouse College in Georgia, which exclusively enrolls Black men. He said despite his upbringing in a dangerous neighborhood in Dallas, being a Morehouse student encouraged him to find his voice and separate himself from the “hood things” he nearly fell victim to at home.
While New Haven currently has no concrete plans to open a school like the Eagle Academies, former Superintendent Reginald Mayo, who sat on the panel, said the Elm City is ready for such a school. He noted the success New Haven Public Schools has seen in its magnet schools, which allow students to receive specialized educations in numerous academic or professional areas including leadership, sciences and the arts.
Mayo said having an exclusive school for men of color would be an extension of the magnet school system by providing another option for the Elm City’s Black and Hispanic males, who already heavily populate NHPS. He highlighted the importance of choice for parents and children, which he said gives students a greater sense of ownership over their education.
Panelist Maysa Akbar, a clinical psychologist and the founder of Integrated Wellness Group — a culturally sensitive psychotherapy practice dedicated to supporting New Haven families — noted the importance of ensuring students have the opportunity to learn from teachers who look like them. She cited one of her own studies, which found that children of color in the St. Louis metro area had a difficult time figuring out their identity because of a lack of sufficient role models and the media’s slanted cultural portrayal of ethnic minorities.
Derrick Gordon, the director of the Program on Male Development at the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, also spoke about helping students form their identities by cultivating communities that are sensitive to students from at-risk backgrounds.
“A number of kids in our communities might not come from the best situational context, but that doesn’t have to determine their trajectory,” Gordon said.
BOE member and panelist Che Dawson said while he supports the opening of a school like Eagle Academy in New Haven, he thinks the school’s stakeholders need to clearly define the type of student they would like the school to produce.
More than 80 percent of all NHPS students are Black or Hispanic.