Real champions inspire us because we know they give everything to make a difference. Through this column, we are helping make known real champions in the lives of children and youth. At NCUST, we are thankful for all the many equity champions who are, each day, changing lives, changing schools, and changing communities.
In 2012, Principal Rodney White opened the first all-male academy in Fort Worth, Texas: The Young Men’s Leadership Academy. He continues to serve as the school’s principal and has “no plans on leaving anytime soon.” White and his colleagues were awarded NCUST’s America’s Best Urban Schools Award in 2015 and 2018 for their exemplary work. The Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) serves approximately 400 students in grades 6 through 12, most of whom are Black or Hispanic and most meet low-income criteria. Nonetheless, YMLA students have outperformed state averages for all students on several state assessments and the school boasts remarkably high attendance rates and impressively low suspension rates.
Considering his students’ backgrounds, White explained that when the school opened, “no one thought we would stay open.” Today, he claims to be most proud of “showing what you can accomplish when you believe in your students.” White believes it’s most rewarding to see the joy in a parent’s face as their child crosses the stage at graduation and transitions into the next chapter of their life.
White’s professional practices have been influenced and shaped by the relentless work of his colleagues. He explained how the students are often “more eager to please the teachers than their own parents.” This can be credited to the academy’s value of strong interpersonal relationships and the fostering of a “family-type” community. White believes fostering a family atmosphere and community has led to the impressive academic results of their students. It’s important to build and maintain these relationships and celebrate successes often. White emphasized the significance of “not holding any grudges,” whether that’s between a student and a student, a student and a teacher, or any other relationship.
White and his colleagues aim to shape their students into well-rounded young men. While the curriculum is strongly regimented, it also allows for experimentation and creativity in the delivery of the material. White believes that “kids give back in different ways to show mastery.” For example, the required use and dependence on technology during the pandemic has allowed students to engage academic material in new ways. White and his colleagues also encourage friendly competition among students, promote a peer-led campus, and share the academic data of their students with the students. Every student is placed in a peer cohort that meets once a week to review their data, essentially holding one another accountable.
Prior to his current position, White worked as a middle school science teacher, assistant principal, and middle school principal. White received his bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian University and his master’s degrees in education from the University of Texas, Arlington.
-Sarah Van Hoose
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