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Education

SAISD Opens First Public All-Boys School In Bexar County

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Joey Palacios
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Texas Public Radio
The first class of the Young Men's Leadership Academy file down the hallway on the first day of class

While some young men are shown to lose interest in school early, the San Antonio Independent School District is gathering boys as early as 4th grade for a new experience to hopefully keep them engaged before the urge to drop out arises.  And on Monday, Bexar County’s only all-male public school opened its doors for the first time. 

280 boys are enrolled at the San Antonio Independent School District’s new Young Men’s Leadership Academy. On opening day, each boy was wearing a white shirt and purple tie, and was welcomed in a procession down the main hallway by teachers and parents.

This school breaks the traditional grade level model taking boys from the 4th grade up to 8th before releasing them to high school. The district reports that period is a crucial bridge for young men.

“If you look at a lot of learning charts, a lot of boys are not graduating, girls are graduating at a higher rate. We want to actually capture our boys at an earlier age,” said YMLA principal Derek Brown.

The district already has a successful all-girls school known as Young Women’s Leadership Academy that covers 6th through 12th grades. SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez explained boys and girls learn differently as they age.

“Many of our young males, the reason they drop out early, is because they get disengaged. They can’t see the relevancy in what they’re studying.” Martinez said. “Many times they’re not confident about what their aspirations should be. Many of our children that come from the inner city, they’ve never been on a collage campus and so they don’t aspire about colleges.”

That being said, the teaching style here is designed to be more hands-on.

“When you have all boys, things have to be much more project based. Boys tend to really respond well to just doing things and not sitting back and getting a lecture.”

That can already be seen in the classrooms. For example, science teacher Victor Young, dressed in a long lab coat, leads his class in movement exercises in the middle of the lesson.

The most visual of this different learning style is the desks. Rather than a stationary chair with an attached flat surface, these brightly colored chairs turn 360 degrees and can be moved freely around the classroom.

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Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
These desks have the ability to move freely.

“These desks are made to move so that you can start the class in a situation which the students are separated from each other and listening and the second portion of the class they can work collaboratively,” Brown said.

Each student also gets an iPad that they can use to continue their lessons at home.

“We’re also bringing people in such as a master gardener who will have the students use their iPads to work out a design, so you’re using math and science skills without it being in a math and science class,” Brown added. “You’re going to have the real world application of building, harvesting the fruit, and then even using it hopefully in the lunchroom.”

While an all-boys school is not uncommon in a private education setting, this one is free and run by the district as a charter school. Brown believes that make up is the best of both worlds.

 “We have the convenience of changing our schedule to fit the specific learning needs of our students,” he said. “We can look as a faculty at the end of this week at what we did on opening day and say ‘did it work to suit our needs the best?’ and if not we can make adjustments.”

The district first announced the school last year and started taking applications in January. It’s open to all students in Bexar County but gives SAISD students preference. Parents Denise and Chris Morales are bringing their son from Catholic school.

“We thought it would be definitely a good start for him to venture out a little bit,” Denise Morales said. “Academic-wise, we wanted to change it up and see how successful he can be. There were some things going on and we just decided to make a switch for the better,” her husband added.

For 11-year-old Xion Lagrant, learning leadership is his biggest interest here.

“At home sometimes I have to work with my sister, help my mom, help my grandmother, and to the best of my ability be a man,” he said. “With male teachers and all that kind of stuff, they’re helping us out and showing us the way of leadership as a male role model in the household.”

The school has female teachers as well.

The school is starting with 4th, 5th, and 6th grades and will add 7th and 8th over the next two years.