CLEVELAND, Ohio — Inside Kenneth Clement Boys’ Leadership Academy on Cleveland’s east side, you’ll find two teachers whose life experiences are parallel.
Paul Lewis and Jesse Harvey grew up on the same street, they both teach science and come from a family of educators.
Every day working in an all-boys K-8 school where more than 90% of the students are black, Lewis and Harvey’s core lesson plans go well beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.
“The push I have here is ‘hey you guys are going to be heads of households, you guys are going to be leaders and it’s a certain type of character you need to have and a certain way you need to conduct yourselves,’” said Harvey.
“They’re addressed as young men,” said Lewis. “We are Kenneth Clement Boys’ Leadership Academy, so we do want them to become leaders and one of the ways you identify as a leader is being addressed as a man not just as a young boy."
Lewis and Harvey say at Kenneth Clement it matters that 53% of the teachers are black.
“They can visualize themselves actually pushing through and achieving and being successful," said Harvey.
But the person at the front of the classroom doesn’t always reflect the student body in Northeast Ohio, only 24% of Cleveland Metropolitan School teachers are black, and black male educators make up just 4% of the district’s teaching staff.
In suburban districts like Cleveland Heights and Bedford with predominantly black student bodies, only three percent of teachers are black men and Garfield and Akron Schools black males make up just 2% of teaching staff.
Teachers said representation is imperative because the students can see themselves in the teachers.
“We’re 100% relatable to each other,” said Lewis. “I know exactly what their story is and they know exactly what my story is, so it eliminates the barrier of learning.”
Representation also yields results. A 2017 Johns Hopkins study found low-income black male students paired with a black teacher in elementary school were 39% less likely to drop out of high school.
A 2015 Western Washington University researcher found that black student behavior is better and the probability of suspension decreases when they’re paired with a black teacher.
“They deserve to have their experiences told in the classroom,” said Kenneth Clement principal Derick Holifield. “It’s important that we understand that the only way to truly understand that experience is to live it, so only black males can teach black males about what it’s like to be a black male in the United States."
District leaders said they are not blind to the lack of diversity in the district, and that’s where Bruce Ransom and Black Men Teach Cleveland come in, just last month the organization rolled out a campaign encouraging more Black men to dive into K-12 education.
“It’s not just the Cleveland Metro Schools, we are going to be working with Richmond Heights, Bedford Heights, Warrensville Heights, all of the districts in North East Ohio that are a part of our Metro-CABSE. If they haven’t received calls and emails, they will be getting them soon enough."
Ransom said Black Men Teach is pushing a grassroots effort to attract students to education at an early age.
“Our first outreach is for young men and further down the road we’ll be talking to people going into different careers that will transition into education."
Sometimes you must visualize your goals before you achieve them, just like Lewis and Harvey did.
The two educator's goals now are to be that same vision for their students, so they can become teachers, leaders and role models.
Click here for more information about Black Men Teach Cleveland.
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