Put dozens of boys in a new school in South L.A., the first one in Los Angeles Unified devoted to young men.
Give them ties to knot over sweater vests bearing their names and the logo of the Boys Academic Leadership Academy.
Bring them to USC to show them what college looks like, and then return them to class. All on the first day of school.
Anything might happen.
One student might feel like he isn’t good enough to be there.
“What’s the point of putting this tie on?” a boy said to teacher Tommy Johnson. “I don’t deserve it.”
Johnson reassured him, “You're exactly the type of kid that needs this.”
Another might express glee.
A sixth-grader named Josh started dancing the second he saw a camera. After it stopped recording, he asked Johnson, “Did I just embarrass myself?” (The answer was no.)
Another might be upset because his cellphone was confiscated — and return to class only when the district’s police chief tells him he can turn his day around.
One might feel alienated enough from the new environment to leave class and try to escape through the front gate.
A pastor named Brian Davis — whose son attends BALA — was on hand to catch the boy who gave that a try. The boy told Davis he didn't have a father figure at home and that he had been routinely told he was dumb. Davis told him that he belonged at BALA and escorted him back to class — where he stayed only after Davis gently held him by one arm and his teacher by the other.
L.A. Unified opened a boys’ school after it launched the single-sex Girls Academic Leadership Academy in Mid-City last year — in part to comply with its interpretation of a federal regulation. But it’s also the kind of unusual offering that the district hopes will help its ongoing fight to recapture enrollment — and revenue — lost to charter schools.
“The district is trying to give parents a unique opportunity they feel they can’t get through charter schools,” said Tyrone Howard, a professor and associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA’s education and information school. But, he said, “you can’t just say it; you have to ensure the quality.”
You also have to get students to enroll, which so far is a problem. The school, starting with grades six and seven (with plans to eventually grow into a high school), attracted 87 students on the first day of classes. As of August 24, 94 students were enrolled.