PATERSON, N.J. — In April, a Paterson all-boys school was ranked among worst in the state. But just a few months later, the district says things are turning around. They are taking a unique approach that taps into the hearts and minds of these young men.
"I’m in the third-grade, and I’m thankful for friends and family," said one student.
Fifty-five boys, grades three through seven, start their day at Paterson’s Young Men’s Leadership Academy this way.
"My name is Xavier Reed. I’m in fourth-grade. I'm thankful for waking up everyday so I can come to school and get my education that I need," said another student.
"I mean it warms your heart," said mom, Stephanie Brown. "It’s so sweet to hear what they are thankful for."
With each expression of gratitude, principal Vernon Maynor water’s the school plant. He says it represents life and their community.
Students respond to each other with a Swahili phrase that Maynor translated as, "we're all in or altogether."
"We are in agreement with what the person is saying," Maynor said.
Students then head to their respective classrooms where they join their teacher in "restorative circles." Here, they talk out problems and life topics.
If students get into trouble or a fight, they are sent to the "peace room" rather than the principal's office.
"Just the other day a young man, his father was in the hospital," Maynor said. "And we had to connect, because my father was too."
Just like a hungry child can’t concentrate in class — an emotionally distraught child will struggle too.
These new tactics — implemented in September — are ultimately meant to help the boys improve academically.
"Social, emotional development is very important. Especially when you’re dealing with young men," Maynor said. "Once your building that connection with each other, then you can start building it in the classroom."
Teachers also underwent extra training this past summer. A special committee has been formed to attack absenteeism and they added curriculum support.
This year’s reading and math testing is still underway, but a goal to increase students’ reading by one grade level before the end of the school year — has already been met.