Twenty-three second-grade boys sit cross-legged on the lunchroom floor in diagonal rows known at this Bradenton, Fla., charter school as the “rays’’ formation.
That’s because the boys are considered little “SUNS,’’ radiating Selflessness, Honesty, Integrity, Niceness and Excellence – or SHINE. It’s the Let Your Light Shine motto at the new Visible Men Academy, where organizers deem character development as important as academic success.
Founder and principal Neil Phillips got the idea for an all-boys charter school from a nonprofit network he started five years ago to connect black boys with black male role models. Program coordinators kept telling the Harvard grad and former professional basketball player, “If only we had more time’’ with the boys.
“That planted the seed,’’ Phillips said.
Visible Men Academy opened in August, leasing space from a community church to teach 73 students in grades K-2. It’s the second single-gendered charter school in Manatee County and the ninth such school in Florida, where the concept is on the rise. In 2009-10, state records show one single-gender charter school. Three years later, there were eight.
Such schools are still rare – fewer than 1 percent of all charters nationally, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And Florida Department of Education officials say they don’t know why there’s an increase. It just seems to be a natural direction for a school choice model that sells itself on offering parents and students an ever-widening array of options.
Charter schools are public schools that function independently from school districts. Some focus on science and math, others on the environment or the arts. The single-gender structure is just another option, and one that’s common in private and parochial schools. Even traditional district schools are trying it, with proponents pointing to improved academic achievement and fewer discipline problems.
The idea is to build upon research that shows some boys and girls learn differently. In some single-gender classrooms, girls sit in clusters so they can talk face-to-face – and frequently – while boys have schedules that allow more breaks for physical activity.
Last year, Just For Girls Academy opened in the same Florida city with a focus on helping girls succeed in reading, math, science and technology – and boosting their confidence. The K-4 school with 102 students is an offshoot of a local girls club.
“Research shows that girls thrive in an environment like this,” said Principal Jennifer Rosenboom. “And our parents wanted a place where their daughters could be safe and flourish.’’
Phillips has a similar outlook at Visible Men Academy. Continue Reading →