Provision keeping teens in school

October 8, 2009 5:51:38 PM PDT
School dropout statistics can be frightening. Nineteen percent of Houston high school students won't graduate. Studies show 85 percent of African-American dropouts will be in jail before they're 25. In Focus reporter Ted Oberg looks at a former pro athlete running a southeast Houston charter school. He is doing everything he can to give young men one more chance to stay in school.

Roynell Young had a great NFL career in Philadelphia. But as he ended his playing days, his ideas were not about the field, but about classrooms.

He came to Houston two decades ago and for the last 12 years has run a charter middle school for young men who need another chance. This year he is adding the ninth grade and vowing to make sure these men graduate and contribute.

After school, Shaun McLemore was still in a Provision classroom.

"I'm just going around, cleaning up the school," said McLemore.

This is punishment, detention for him, but McLemore doesn't seem too angry about it.

"Unlike the other schools, if you don't do right, they're not gonna care. At this school, they care," he said.

McLemore is a freshman at Provision, an all-boys charter school in southeast Houston. He is finding success here after being kicked out of four schools for behavior problems starting with his Pre-K program.

"It has to work here. As many schools as I've been to, this school will be my last chance. It's pretty much all on the line," said McLemore.

"Everyone needs to know that they matter and so no one escapes my awareness," said Young.

Twenty years ago, after a nine-year All-Pro career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Young moved to Houston and started working with young men. Not as a retired football star, but just as a guy on a southwest Houston basketball court who cared enough to listen to their stories.

That grew into Provision, with a brand new 16-acre campus for 147 boys from 5th to 9th grade. Most had discipline problems at the Houston Independent School District. Ninety-five percent of them come from families below the poverty level. It's an open enrollment charter school so anyone can apply, but every one of the students has to tell Young in their own words why they deserve one of his chairs.

"What that does is begins to shift the responsibility of educating myself squarely on me," said Young.

For a group of young men with a history of acting out, the level of respect and discipline here is overwhelming.

"You can't teach over chaos," said Young.

The young men wear uniforms. There are no backpacks and no cell phones. Discipline is a one-on-one conversation in the hallways. Class change time is exceptionally quiet. And in class, no one speaks out of turn.

"You can't make anyone do anything. It's not like over here at Provision, I am a mad scientist and I have this technique of screwing the top of your head off and pouring knowledge in. It doesn't happen that way. Everyone has to take an active part in the educational process," said Young.

Provision claims 90 percent of former students graduate from a high school, far better than HISD's overall rate of 81 percent at best.

McLemore, who was not crazy about an all-boys school at first, now looks forward to a class that welcomes him. Quite a change for a young man who's used to being asked to leave.

When we asked McLemore if there was any doubt he would get a high school diploma, he replied, "No, sir."

Provision will add a school grade every year for the next three years to complete the high school. In addition to regular classroom teaching, Provision has a manhood development academy on Saturdays and job programs through the summer.

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