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New Fort Worth boys' academy stresses ties that bind

Grades are considered, but admission is not limited to top students

08/15/2012 11:20 PM

08/15/2012 11:42 PM

FORT WORTH -- At the new Young Men's Leadership Academy in Fort Worth, students will have mandatory Latin class, required community service and daily assemblies.

But the first lesson the boys learned at brotherhood camp this week at the new school was how to tie a necktie.

"When I got home the first day, I practiced doing it," said Philip Kirkland, 12, a seventh-grader. "I can do the four-in-one knot and half Windsor but I can't do the full Windsor. So I am going to have to practice some more, I guess."

When the Young Men's Leadership Academy starts classes Aug. 27, it will join a handful of all-boy public schools in Texas. The Grand Prairie school district is opening all-boy and all-girl academies this month. Last fall, Dallas opened an all-boy campus and Houston opened all-boy and all-girl schools.

While how each school is organized is different, officials say the goal is prepare students for college by keeping them engaged in a rigorous curriculum that is free from the distraction of girls in the classroom.

In Fort Worth, 150 sixth- and seventh-grade boys are enrolled in the academy at the former Dunbar Sixth Grade Center. Officials plan to add one grade each year until the first seniors graduate in 2018. The school district's Young Women's Leadership Academy opened in 2010 and will add a ninth grade this year.

Having pride

Admission to the all-boy school was open to students from across the district and was not limited to top-performing students, said Robert Ray, deputy superintendent for program efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability.

"We didn't cherry-pick in terms of choosing our students. We wanted students who desire to go to college and who desire to impact society," Ray said. "This is about young men fulfilling their destiny as leaders, fulfilling their potential."

To get into the boys academy, students had to submit test scores, two teacher recommendations and an essay. And they had to have a 70 percent semester grade-point average in core classes and regular attendance.

Each morning, students will gather in the auditorium for a conventus fratrum, a ceremonial meeting of the brothers, to recite the student creed -- they'll learn it in Latin, too -- check dress code compliance and learn about college and leadership.

Boys will sit with classmates in their "pride," a group of about 37 who will stick together during the year for team-building academic activities and mutual support. Students can earn merit points for their pride through competitions and good conduct. It's similar to the British school house system depicted in the Harry Potter book series.

"Pride" stands for perseverance, resilience, integrity, discipline and excellence. The "p" was originally for 'poise' but was changed because some thought it too "feminine," Principal Rodney White said. "The reason I liked 'poise' is 'poised for college,' 'poised for great things to come.' But I do like the 'perseverance' better," White said.

Clarence Smith, 12, is in the Chiune Sugihara pride, named for a Japanese diplomat who helped Jewish refugees escape from Europe at the start of World War II. Clarence's sister attends the Young Women's Leadership Academy and he jumped at the chance for a similar experience.

"It's going to be pretty OK without girls," said Clarence, who wants to become a Wall Street investment banker. "I have a lot of friends who have taught me to be a better scholar. They're all girls. The boys usually goof off. But the boys here have more sense."

Extended application

The academy program was the subject of controversy in early 2011 when some parents expressed concern that the academy would not benefit the students most at risk of dropping out. Those concerns have largely dissipated, school Trustee Christene Moss said.

"After they heard all of the positive things about it they became supportive because they saw how it will benefit the young men in the Stop Six community and across the Fort Worth ISD," Moss said.

The application period was extended after only 40 students applied for the sixth grade and 17 for the seventh. White said he visited youngsters and their parents to generate interest in the school. Enrollment hit capacity of 75 students for each grade and there is a waiting list, White said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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