Mentorship of Black males is purpose of program in Kent public schools

WORTON — Kent County Public Schools wants to continue the work of a state pilot program that added more supports for male African American students.

The school system was awarded funding several years ago to launch a pilot program called Achieving Academic Excellence and Equity for Black Boys.

The pilot was the result of a task force study issued in 2021 by the Maryland State Department of Education that highlighted the need for a targeted effort to improve educational outcomes for Black boys.

“Our Black boys are intelligent and capable. Like all other children, they want to learn and be successful. Yet this will not happen if as a state education system we — either through ignorance or neglect — fail to educate them in ways that affirm their learning differences, attend to their social-emotional needs, appreciate their culture, set high expectations and respect them as unique individuals,” task force Chair Vermelle D. Greene, Ph.D., wrote in the report.

As the state Department of Education was looking to launch a program to tackle the concerns spelled out in the task force report, Kent County Public Schools applied for and was awarded funding to launch the AAEEBB program.

Social worker Courtney Miller is an AAEEBB program advisor at Kent County High School. Tyray Johnson heads up Kent County Middle School’s AAEEBB program.

When the Kent County Board of Education met April 8, Miller was joined by the high school team and AAEEBB students Jonah Somerville and Ja Marcus Downs to speak about the importance of the program.

“The goal of this mentoring program was to reduce the number of Black boys requiring disciplinary action, and how we did this was we provided a structured mentoring program during the school day and in the community,” Miller told board members.

While the AAEEBB program in Kent County has the most participation in the middle and high schools, school staff and community members are also trying to reach younger students all the way down to kindergartners.

“For the initial pilot program, Kent County High School as well as Kent County Middle School focused on coordinating a structured mentoring program that was tailored to meet the social-emotional learning needs of our identified Black boys in grades K through 12,” Miller said.

There is an active mentoring program at H.H. Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown, and older AAEEBB students have served as mentors themselves to fourth graders at Galena Elementary School.

In her presentation to the school board last month, Miller said they have seen increased engagement in the learning environment among members of the program.

Tilise Brown, the high school’s guidance secretary and an AAEEBB program coordinator, said they have seen a decrease in both in-school and out-of-school suspensions, class disruptions and referrals among participants.

Brown said the high school has improved attendance, including tardiness; increased involvement in extracurricular and community activities; improved grade point averages; increased the overall amount of course completion and post-secondary planning; and improved the willingness to engage in mental health supports.

She said the work does not stop at the end of the school year.

“We’ve been able to provide summer group activities to keep our boys bonding and learning,” Brown said.

That included a fishing trip provided by community partner Rock Hall Charters.

Students Somerville and Downs highlighted additional aspects of the program, including regular discussions on social-emotional health, workshops on dressing for success, community service activities and college visits.

Among its activities, the middle school program raised $1,000 earlier this year through a Valentine’s Day charity dance; the money was donated to the Valentine Project supporting children affected by cancer or chronic illness.

Kent County Public Schools wants to continue building on the success of the AAEEBB program.

Notably, no student who has joined the high school’s program has quit the program.

“We have a shared responsibility to continue the AAEEBB program for students, staff, school and community,” Brown said in closing the presentation to the Board of Education.

Trish McGee, owner and publisher of The Evening Enterprise, is an elected member of the Kent County Board of Education. She did not contribute to this report.


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