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The All-Boys Experiment: Signs of Progress

In the Rochester City School District, more boys than girls skip school. The disparity is even larger when it comes to graduation rates. The district's overall graduation rate is in the high-40s, and the Leadership Academy for Young Men was created to spur more young men on to graduation.

There are positive signs in the Academy's third year, but we won't know if it's a success until the first full class reaches graduation. That will come in June of 2015. This week, the inaugural class became juniors. There is finally an upper class, and principal Wakili Moore says that will make a big difference.

"The juniors can help in many ways," Moore said. "First and foremost, they can lead by showing up and showing positive energy. Our common goal is graduation, and there's no way you can do that if you're not in school, if you're coming in late or if you're just not here."

Rochester city schools see a daily average attendance rate of around 88%. In 2011, the Leadership Academy posted a daily attendance rate of just 73%, reflecting the challenge of making sure young boys are active in their education. But last year, that number jumped to 89%, and principal Moore wants to see attendance rates in the 90s this academic year.

Here's one way attendance is improving: Students are getting over the issue of the uniform.

It's no small thing. Last year an Academy teacher participated in an online video that discussed the stigma some boys experienced in their first year at the academy: they were called "gay" by classmates attending other schools. Despite the progress on gay issues, that term is still a stinging pejorative for young urban students.

This week, we found very few students who minded wearing a shirt and tie anymore.

"It prepares you for college and the great life because when you go for a job, you have to wear a uniform, too," said freshman Kahlile Carter.

"You sit down and realize, hey, there's no girls," said junior Kevin Vellon. "I don't have to worry about what i'm wearing. There's no girls, so I don't have to care about what other people say. I'm not here to impress the guys. I'm here to learn, to look professional."

Principal Moore explained that uniform is a key part of the Academy. "We tell them to take pride in how you look," Moore said. "We tell them not to worry about what other people say. Take care of yourself."

The Leadership Academy is housed inside Charlotte High School, which is a school that does not require uniforms. Vellon said that Academy students know to go about their business, and thanks to a north-south separation inside the building, there isn't much overlap. "It works out well," Vellon said.

The real proof of success will come when the Academy releases its first set of graduation rates. Moore knows there is pressure, but he sees momentum. "More guys are showing up every day, and they're ready for class," Moore said. "They start strong. They ask for help when they need it. They're becoming excellent young men."

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Washington Times