“You’re going to hate my class for the first four weeks,” is what English teacher Garrick Brown told his first class of ninth grade students at the Leadership Academy for Young Men. Brown practices a kind of “tough love” with his students, simultaneously earning respect through discipline, and demonstrating that he cares for them. Now halfway through the spring semester, most of the students have bonded with him and appreciate his teaching style.
The Leadership Academy for Young Men (LAFYM) is an all-boys high school located in the Charlotte neighborhood of Rochester, New York. Principal Wakili Moore created the school in effort to remedy some worrying statistics about graduation rates in the Rochester City School District, particularly concerning African-American boys. During its first year, LAFYM’s 88 students have attended classes on the third floor of Charlotte High School, while the co-ed high school operates separately on the floors below.
Although most see the all-boys school as a positive force in the community, it has not been an entirely smooth transition. As a public school, LAFYM cannot turn away students based on grades or past behavior issues; when the other high schools had too many students enrolled, several students were placed unwillingly in LAFYM. According to teachers and students there, having students who were not willing to accept the program were “poisonous” to the morale of the other students. Additionally, they faced some difficulties with students in the co-ed high school - they often call the LAFYM students “gay” for going to a boys’ school - but these confrontations have become less frequent over time.
Somewhat unexpectedly, it has taken longer for some boys to thrive in the new school environment. Others started strong, but lately have been slipping up in their grades and behavior. “We kind of thought that they’d get here, they’d be wearing the uniforms and would instantly fall into place,” Brown explained. “They don’t believe in what they can’t see,” he said, referring to the fact that the ninth-graders have no upperclassmen to look up to as mentors.
Brown feels that the program can reach its full potential in the next few years, if a few improvements are made. Major goals for LAFYM include procuring their own building, having their own sports teams, hiring more teachers who can serve as role models, and figuring out how to recruit students and families that are on board with LAFYM’s values.
In the meantime, LAFYM’s single-gender educational setting represents a change in the face of American public education. Set against an urban backdrop, this school may present new opportunities that adolescents in city schools may not otherwise have.