LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jasmine Pitmon hopes to see her son, Durion Brown, grow into a young lion as he enters the sixth grade at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, much like the transformation she saw in his older brother last year.
Pitmon watched his grades shoot up and his interest in school blossom as part of the inaugural class at the DuBois Academy, which is entering its second year at Jefferson County Public Schools and offers an Afrocentric curriculum to its male students, most of them black. The school held a tie and jacket ceremony for about 150 incoming sixth graders Monday at the Muhammad Ali Center.
Pitmon, who describes Durion as a “hyper child,” mostly wants her son’s confidence to flourish at DuBois. She’s confident that DuBois will “prepare him for the next fun after middle school, after high school,” she said.
“There’s so much I want from the school that I know they’re going to give him without me asking for it,” she said Monday before the ceremony. “I want it done, and I know it’s going to happen.”
Parents like Pitmon cheered their boys as they were recognized on stage Monday as the second class for DuBois, which will eventually add an eighth grade class before potentially expanding further.
Robert Gunn, the school’s principal, said he saw boys at DuBois grow not just as students but as young men last year.
The latter point is one he’s “most excited about,” he said. Some parents have thanked him because their sons are showing more initiative or demonstrating more confidence.
That comes, he says, in setting high expectations for DuBois students.
“One of the things we always lead with in our building is no one’s perfect, and we don’t except you to be,” Gunn told reporters. “We’re going to hold you to a high expectation, but we expect you to make mistakes, and when you do, we will be here to correct you not because we’re upset with you, not because we dislike you. But people who don’t correct you don’t love you.”
DuBois has worked at instilling that familial feel at the school level. Jalen Dykes, an incoming seventh grader who spoke during Monday’s ceremony, told WDRB News beforehand that he didn’t feel like he had friends at the school, but rather “brothers.”
Jalen says the smaller class sizes help DuBois feel like a close-knit community.
“You feel united as one,” he said, adding that his public speaking and confidence improved during his first year at DuBois.
John Marshall, chief equity officer at JCPS, believes that DuBois will continue showing progress as it enters its second year and demonstrate that Kentucky’s largest district can close achievement gaps between minority students and their white peers.
“This is proof that when you put students in fertile ground and you put students where they belong and there’s a sense of belonging that they will rise to those expectations,” Marshall told WDRB News.
That’s a point Marshall hopes to drive home for the Jefferson County Board of Education as it discusses a similar academy program for girls of color during a work session Tuesday.
“Our data has said for a long time that there’s something different we need to do,” he said.
Gunn says he believes the achievement gap starts as an expectation gap, something he’s making a point to change at DuBois.
“In our building, we don’t have this ‘poor baby’ syndrome,” he said. “We don’t sympathize with students. We can empathize with anything they can be going through, but at the end of the day, it is all about making sure that we are pushing them to be their best.
“If you see someone and you don’t see a deficit the same way that we look at our children and we see greatness in them, if we do that with our students, I think that achievement gap will take care of itself because we’re not putting lower expectations on students for any reason.”
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