- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - About 180 men who work for Kalamazoo Public Schools have agreed to serve as mentors this year in an effort to improve outcomes for males students, particularly those who are African-American.

The initiative was announced at a recent KPS board meeting by Superintendent Michael Rice, who told the Kalamazoo Kazette ( https://bit.ly/1MvkN91 ) he will be personally mentoring five students at Phoenix High School.

He said all of his male administrators have agreed to serve as mentors, along with dozens of other male employees.

That’s enough to serve 900 male students, who will meet with their mentors at least once a week during the school year, Rice said.

“I’m blown away” by the number who have signed up for the project, he said, adding the details are still being fleshed out. “This is maiden-voyage stuff.”

Rice said he also is talking to the Kalamazoo Metropolitan Branch of the NAACP and the Northside Ministerial Alliance to recruit more mentors from the community.

The initiative is designed to help close gap between female and male students, and particularly American-American males, the district’s lowest-performing demographic group.

Rice reeled off a list of statistics about the underperformance of African-American males, including the fact that only 58 percent of KPS black males have a high school diploma five years after starting high school compared to 73 percent of black females, 77 percent of white males and 79 percent of white females.

Kalamazoo’s black students are twice as likely as whites to qualify for the federal subsidized lunch program, Rice said. But that doesn’t explain the gender gap for blacks.

“Our African American girls grow up in the same families, in the same neighborhoods, and in the same communities, and go to the same schools,” Rice said. “Our African American young men should be able to perform at the same levels.”

The underperformance of African-American males is a nationwide issue, he said, and is exacerbated in Kalamazoo by the depth of poverty in the local African-American community.

He noted that African-Americans in KPS have a higher participation rate in the subsidized lunch program than blacks in the Detroit, Flint and Benton Harbor school districts.

“It is this confluence of challenges - gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomics - that compels us to action,” Rice said. ” … Our young men need to be mentored by men, and our men need to rise to the challenge.”

Rice said the 900 students to receive mentors will include males of all races, but the bulk will be African-American.

“I understand that there are other young men that could benefit from mentoring, and we will mentor them as well,” he said. “But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the group that needs the most - our African American males - should receive the most mentoring.”

He said the district is “to establish a broad protocol for the work of our internal mentors. Roughly speaking, the mentoring should take place at least once a week, for at least a lunch period in duration. The focus of the mentoring should be on the child: his interests, his hopes, his dreams.”

“In a nutshell, we’re trying to demonstrate a level of explicit caring and attempting to help young men figure out how to go from where they are to where they want to be in life,” he said.

“We have many lessons to learn in this process, and we look forward to partnering with many in the community on this journey,” Rice said. “Indeed, I have spoken to Amy Kuchta, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Pam Kingery, executive director of Communities in Schools-Kalamazoo, and we will be meeting soon to discuss ways that we might expand mentoring and put to best use our mentoring capacity in the community. I will be meeting with others as well.”

In addition to the mentoring initiative, Rice said the district is looking at other ways to improve outcomes for African-American males, including professional development for staff on cultural sensitivity; a look at research on best practices for boosting the achievement of black male students, and examining the “socialization of African-American males within our schools.”

Board members applauded Rice’s initiative.

“We’ve seen the numbers and we’ve talked about this over and over,” board Vice President Carol McGlinn said. “We need to change what’s happening. … This is such an important issue.”


Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, https://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo

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