The fight was the first thing that students in Robert Boddie’s
mentorship group wanted to discuss.
This group of black students at Ridgetop Junior High School
meets weekly with Boddie and T.C. Curry, both volunteers, for the
noncredit activity focused on academics and personal growth. They
talk about everything. Grades, girls, guns … no topic is taboo.
Two boys from the group, absent that day through suspension, had
fought earlier in the week over something someone had written in a
textbook. A female student was injured in the fracas.
Towan Curry (no relation to T.C.) said one of the offenders
should be barred from the group.
“Even though we gave him a second chance, he went out and
repeatedly got in trouble,” Towan said. Others agreed.
In this tight-knit group — part brotherhood, part boot camp —
everyone knows the statistics: that blacks lag academically and in
the workplace, and that they are more likely to end up in jail.
They also know — because Boddie and Curry have drilled it into them
— that there are no excuses.
“If you get in trouble, don’t try to put the blame on someone
else,” said Lenny Commey.
“You have to be accountable for your action. Be responsible for
yourself,” said Kendall Washington.
The Ridgetop group, formed seven years ago, is open to each
year’s ninth graders. Boddie leads a similar group for seventh
graders at Mountain View Middle School in the Bremerton School
Both districts host the groups as part of their strategies to
address academic achievement and discipline among minority students
and other “at-risk” groups. The purpose, said Ridgetop counselor
Steve Lee, is to equip these young men with tools and strategies to
overcome the odds against them.
I reported on day 1 of our Lessons in Discipline series) black
students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled
from school than their white peers. In Kitsap and North Mason
schools, students are less than three times but (as a group) more
than two times more likely to be removed from school for behavior
As I explained in the first article, that’s like black kids in
local schools getting two raffle tickets for every one the white
kids get every day they walk into school. Only, instead of a prize,
it’s double your chances of being sent to the principal’s office,
or worse, suspended or expelled.
“There’s no debate about that. It is what it is,” Lee said. “The
question is, ‘What are we going to do to make sure these boys are
The boys are well aware of how suspension or expulsion could
impact them. “What happens when you’re removed from school, even
simply put of the classroom for the rest of the period?” Boddie
“You get behind in your classes,” said Diamante West of the
Mountain View group.
Then you can’t go to college, get a job and take care of your
family, the students said.
I recently attended both groups as part of my research for our
series on student discipline. Although in today’s (Monday, Feb. 17)
story, we make only passing reference to the mentorship groups —
citing Boddie as a youth mentor in both districts — I want the
students (and their parents) to know that the information I got
during their frank discussions was extremely helpful. I appreciate
their honesty and willingness to let me sit in and listen.
Dear students: What I took away from all of you is that you well
understand the statistics that show black students (as a group)
lagging behind their white peers academically. I know that Mr.
Boddie and Mr. Curry also have shared with you information about
the over-representation of black students among students who are
disciplined in school.
Nobody I interviewed for this article disputes the
But no doubt some, when they read about these mentoring groups,
will wonder if it isn’t counter-intuitive to tell black kids up
front that the playing field isn’t level. After all, doesn’t that
give them an excuse for failure? So the argument goes.
But I also know from listening to you that you understand this is
not some chance game in which you are powerless. There may be parts
of life and school over which you have no control — surely there
are many. But you know — because Mr. Boddie and Mr. Curry have
drummed it into you — that you own your own behavior. You own your
integrity and your character.
I heard several of you say, if you misbehave, you can’t blame
others, even if others who were involved had a hand in the
I get that you all are in different stages of making this
message your own. For some, it is true because Mr. Boddie and Mr.
Curry say so. For others, you know this to be true. You know you
don’t have to be victims of statistics or of history.
And here’s some encouraging news I can share with you, not
because it’s my opinion but because I’ve found it so through my
Nationwide, and in your school, there are people working to
change things. Teachers, principals and others who care about
educating young people are trying to use ways of discipline that
involve less punishment, more “restorative justice.”
Students are being held accountable for their actions, but
teachers and others are trying their best to understand what was
behind the behavior, be it stress at home, physical or mental
health issues … learning disabilities, somebody forgetting to take
their meds. As you know, there is a lot that can make a student act
up in class.
Educators are also trying to do a better job of understanding
how black students might be different from white students, or
Filipinos or Guamanians, because — the research indicates — culture
has a powerful influence on everything.
Some people I talked to for this project, including some
students, said they thought teachers should be “color blind.” But
what education experts now are coming to understand is that
teachers should be trained not to overlook the differences between
people but to recognize them.
Teachers in many districts, including yours, have gotten
training to help them recognize behavior that comes from someone’s
culture which might look different from the norm versus behavior
that is truly naughty, malicious or dangerous. There’s a lot going
on out there among teachers and other educators to move this
So take heart, maybe when your kids or your grandkids go to
school, you’ll try to explain this disproportionality thing, and
they’ll be, like, “What are you talking about?”
You guys are all very smart and in touch with what is going on
in your school. So I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that other
groups of kids are struggling, too — kids with learning
disabilities, as I mentioned above, and kids living with the stress
of poverty. Other kids who fall outside the mainstream, it can be a
struggle for them.
White kids struggle, too. I can say from my own experience and
that of my three children that nobody — even kids who seem to “have
it all” — sails through junior high/middle school without some
degree of anxiety and conflict.
Thank you for sharing with me all your goals for college and the
future. Even if you don’t all make the NBA or NFL (a universal goal
among both groups), I’m so glad to know we will have you as
doctors, lawyers, barbers, firefighters, shipyard workers,
preachers and members of the military. We need you smart, educated
and committed so Mr. Boddie, Mr. Curry and I can hand it off to you
young people. We’re not getting any younger, you know.
If any of your parents would like to contact me for questions or
comments about the project, my email is email@example.com and my
phone number if (360) 792-9219.
My best wishes to you all for a great year at school and much
success in the future.
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