Participants in a grassroots effort at Frankfort Independent Schools hope their work gives black male students a boost for better lives.
The program they’ve started, Frankfort’s OWN – the acronym’s meaning is undecided – will provide those students a place to study, practice working in teams, meet role models and learn about college opportunities every Saturday during the school year.
The school district’s Diversity Coalition has wanted to implement such a program for years, FIS Superintendent Rich Crowe says.
Last year, 58 percent of African-American FIS students passed state reading tests overall, and just 48 percent passed math tests. That’s compared to 74 percent in reading and 69 percent in math among their white peers.
“This is a group of our (student) population that has a need we’ve recognized for quite a while,” Crowe said, explaining that state test scores have shown for decades that kids in poverty and minority students tend to struggle, and boys often fall behind girls academically.
“If you happen to be in all three of those groups – a black male that happens to be poor – you’re really behind the eight ball, so to speak.”
More than 20 parents, teachers, administrators and others gathered in the Frankfort High School library last week to hammer out the details before the first meeting Jan. 14.
It’s open to all black male students in the fifth through 10th grades, with the expectation that older kids will participate as they grow with the program.
So far about 30 have signed up, Crowe says, and he hopes the program could grow to 85 in coming years.
“We hope we have every young African-American male in our district participating in this, and their test scores are the best in the state, and they have greater opportunities at postsecondary education and careers,” he said.
The Frankfort Independent Board of Education has offered $1,000 to get the program started. Kids may eventually be asked to help with fundraising efforts, Crowe said.
Volunteers will run the Saturday sessions. Several Kentucky State University employees are involved in the project, but spokeswoman Felicia Lewis says there’s no official partnership yet.
Students who join will be expected to attend every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the school year, unless they have a valid excuse.
Kids will sign an agreement before joining, pledging to keep at least a 2.75 GPA with nothing below a C, attend school regularly and on time, promptly finish school assignments and not be summoned to the principal for behavior problems.
They must vow to read at least 30 minutes a day outside of school, provide 20 hours of community service annually, stay well-dressed and groomed, watch their language and behavior and “commit to a positive, respectful and tolerant attitude.”
Parents will sign on to support their kids and stay active in the program, and they must limit their kids’ TV watching and use of electronics.
The program is modeled after the Black Males Working Academy in Lexington, a partnership between the First Baptist Church at Bracktown’s nonprofit arm and Fayette County Public Schools.
Retired teacher Rozalyn Akins, wife of the Rev. C.B. Akins, pastor of that church and member of the Kentucky Board of Education, started the group in 2005 after African American males at Lexington’s Leestown Middle School performed poorly on state tests and had the highest number of trips to the principal’s office.
Rozalyn Akins will speak at the Jan. 14 meeting of the Frankfort group.
The program now serves teens at 11 middle and high schools in Fayette and surrounding counties.