Students become leaders at the all boys DISD magnet school in the heart of Oak Cliff.
By Mia Castillo
A visitor to the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy might be greeted by a young man opening the front door. There would most likely be a handshake, along with an impressive introduction to the school.
Visitors on a tour of the Oak Cliff school will see that every wall on campus is covered with achievement awards colorfully displayed, and in every hallway young men are walking to class in navy blazers and gray slacks, eager to get an education.
“The work here is much harder than it was at my old school,” said 10th-grader Miguel Dominguez, who gave a tour one day recently. “ I want to be a mathematician, and right now I am in Algebra II.”
First Year Down. Second in Progress. Many to Come.
The first all boys’ school in DISD’s history opened for their first school year on August 22, 2011. Principal Nakia Douglas believes that the Academy, located at 4730 S. Lancaster Road, had a great start but that the best is yet to come.
“We are a magnet campus, focused on college prep, with a private school feel, in a public school setting,” said Douglas.
Not just any student can attend this magnet campus. A student must have a GPA of an 80 or above, must score within the 40th percentile in their math and reading assessments, and are also given a writing assessment.
The Academy grew from 179 young men to 273 in a year’s time, starting out with grades sixth through ninth, and adding a sophomore class in 2012. The Academy was in the top 10 percent of all DISD schools, including its magnet schools, and in most instances, ranked in the top five.
Douglas believes that one day the Academy will be number one, up against schools like Townview’s TAG and the Science Engineering magnets.
“ I’m a perfectionist. There is a quote I learned as a student, ‘Good, better, best, never, ever rest, until your good is better and your better is best.’ I believe we exceeded a lot of people’s expectations but keeping that quote in mind, I know that even better years are yet to come,” he said.
Students with Big Dreams
Students Kirk Taylor and Sienzhi Kouemo are two young men who embrace their education at the Academy. Taylor, who is currently in the sixth-grade, says he gets to experience things at the Academy that he had never imagined.
“I was kind of sad at first because all of my friends were going to another school, but now I regret even thinking that, because the school they are going to doesn’t have anything like we have here,” said Taylor.
Kouemo, who is in ninth-grade, is already thinking about college. “ I want to go to MIT because I want to be an engineer. I like building things and making them work.”
Leadership Principles to Build Better Men
Douglas says the Academy’s goal is to turn young men into leaders who make a difference. Everything relates back to the school’s mission statement: to develop young men of the intellectual, moral, physical, social and emotional skills for the global society of tomorrow.
“Beyond that we want to build better husbands and fathers for our families and communities,” said Douglas.
Douglas believes that sixth-grade, the year students can enroll at the Academy, is one of the most critical years in a child’s education.
“When you build a strong foundation, a house will not fall,” said Douglas. “Unfortunately, a lot of our young people become disenfranchised with school when they make that transition from elementary to middle school.”
Douglas believes that this particular change is when many students become disengaged, but by starting the Academy and college preparation in sixth-grade, the students’ love for education never gets a chance to become broken.
The Houses- Teaching Responsibility
The academy divides itself into four houses designed to teach responsibility: the house of alliance, the house of decree, the house of expedition, and the house of justice. Young men hold competitions based on their grades, behavior, parental participation, community service hours, number of books read, and amount of physical activity. If a student causes their house to lose points for misbehavior, that student must let their team know how they are going to redeem themselves and earn back the lost points. Douglas believes this teaches accountability for the young men and their peers because they do not want to let their team down.
“They were professional test takers, and now we are helping them develop the skills to become professional problem solvers for the rest of their lives,” said Douglas.
Parental Involvement and PTSA
Students aren’t the only ones with high accountability on campus. Parents are expected to be equally engaged in their child’s education. Kevin Mondy is a parent and President of the Parent Teacher Student Association. PTSA’s responsibilities are to coordinate efforts for parents, teachers, students, the community at large, and members of PTSA.
“Our goal is to make sure parents are informed, that teachers are well supported, and that students have all the things they need to be successful,” said Mondy.
All parents are required to participate in at least two events during the school year, and by Christmas time of last year almost all of the parents had already exceeded their required hours.
“If a student can see his parent involved, it keeps them engaged in learning daily,” said Mondy.
Although the Academy is a part of DISD and is funded by taxpayers, extra funding is needed. Several fundraising efforts and grants for the Academy are pursued by school officials and parents. Many of the Academy’s programs have won grants from different foundations.
“We are resourceful by creating relationships with community organizations that are willing to provide grants and open doors that have private funders come in and allow students from our campus to participate within their program,” said Douglas.
The Academy has many things to look forward to in the near future. This summer, the Academy is preparing to send up to 25 emerging Biology students to Costa Rica to study Spanish and learn about the culture. Next year, an upper school and a middle school will be added to the growing campus.
Class of 2015/ 10 Year Goal
Douglas has high expectations for the Academy’s first graduating class, the class of 2015. He expects a 100 percent graduation rate and that all young men will be able to attend the college or university of their choice on a full four-year scholarship. In 10 years, Douglas hopes the Academy will be a pre-kindergarden through 12th-grade campus.
“We love what we do, we are excited about what we do, and we know that we provide opportunities that others don’t,” said Douglas. “One day I hope to look to see that we have a strong alumni network that are changing opportunities and expectations for our future generations.”