Helping Black Boys Succeed in School, Part I

Help your child do better in school.

Black boys continue to struggle within many United States schools and we’ve got to do something about it. Now. As a part of the MANifest series, I’ve decided to highlight five things “to do’s” to improve Black boys' school success (these measures also work for Black girls or any child, but I’ll explain why they’re particularly important for Black males).

The reality is that children spend more time out of school than they do in the classroom; so in order to create stronger students, we’ll need to work before and after the bell tolls. Here are the first two steps:

-Strong Summers/ After School Time

The halcyon days of summer are coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the time spent outside of the classroom is unrelated to the upcoming academic year. As many parents are scrambling to find school supplies and clothes, now is the perfect time to re-engage academic matters.

As researchers have found, the summer months often take a toll on poor children’s reading and math scores. Has your son read a book lately? If so, have him do a brief report on it. This will help re-engage his writing skills and remind him of the demands of an academic year. If not, now is the perfect time. Provide an incentive: If you finish a book before the start of the school year and a report, I’ll get you those new _______________ (fill in with something appropriate to your budget and preferably something academically helpful, such as a new bookbag or gadget.) While sometimes incentives are shied away from, when well placed, they can make young people stick to a task and reward them for a job well done.

Structured summer and after-school programs, programs that are led by adults with specific goals, are important for keeping high academic engagement and role modeling. When the school bell rings, many young brothers are left to roam freely around or to entertain themselves. Getting your child in a free or low-cost afterschool program will cut down on “down time” and add structure to his day. Many schools offer extended day programs and local community centers are also an important option.

-Clear Communication with Teachers

The start of the school year is an ideal time to become acquainted with your child’s teacher(s). During the school week, teachers will be watching your child develop socially and academically more hours a day than you will. For that reason, it’s essential to make early contact and make contact often.

All too often, a call from the teacher signals that something went wrong at school. However, this need not be the case. By being proactive and establishing a relationship with your child’s homeroom teacher expectations in the classroom and expectations at home can be shared and common ground can be discovered.

For better or worse, teachers often view their students’ parents as “active” or “inactive.” These estimates of parental desire to engage are not always accurate, but they are still consequential for the treatment your child may receive and your family’s reception at school. While your individual work and home-life situation may not allow for volunteering, building a relationship with a classroom teacher creates a path for communication and identification of your child’s educational needs.

Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his official website