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Changing The Perception Of The Student

Changing The Perception Of The Student
April 1, 2015 SEHD Communications

Changing the Perception of the Student


  • black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students.
  • nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor. – U.S. Department of Education


During a lecture on February 6, 2015, titled “Kindling the S.P.A.R.K. of Black Male Genius Through Education,” Dr. Marlon James, assistant professor in curriculum and instruction and associate director of the Center for Urban School Partnerships, shared findings from his latest research on the development of highly successful black males and provided recommendations for concerned parents, schools and communities.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 20% of black boys and more than 12% of black girls receive an out-of-school suspension in their academic career. Expulsions like these can lead to an increased likelihood of dropping out of school and even inappropriate or delinquent activities.

“The education system and the prison system are in competition for their souls,” began Dr. Marlon James, a renowned expert in urban and multicultural education. “We don’t have an achievement gap,” he insisted. “We have an opportunity gap. We are not making equal investments in children. How do you exist in a society that is resisting your maturation?”

Where some may see a grim future for a doomed generation of black men, Dr. James believes that educators can bring out the best in these young men by using success stories as blueprints for excellence and expanding their own definitions of success.

In a publication he guest edited called “Can You See Me Now: Exploring the Critical Autoethnographies of Successful African American Males in Education,” nine black male K-12 teachers, graduate students and faculty from around the country shared their thoughts on educational attainment in spite of social barriers and glass ceilings.

What Dr. James and his colleagues found is that the men had a far more holistic view of intellectual success that couldn’t be measured by an aptitude test. Rather, they defined genius as a synthesis of know-how; a collective wisdom of sorts. They aspired to achieve what Dr. James called S.P.A.R.K.: five domains of development that demonstrate intellectual, personal and physical maturity. In the future, Dr. James and his colleagues hope to expand the research by interviewing more Black males, conducting a national study, and ultimately developing the S.P.A.R.K. Inventory of Black Male Genius. For more on the work of the Center for Urban School Partnerships, click here.


For Dr. Luis Ponjuan, providing students a path to one day pursue and attain a college degree is at the heart of his research on the country’s Latino male population who are struggling to keep pace with their peers at key transition points along the educational pipeline.

As an immigrant who was undocumented until the age of 15, Dr. Ponjuan, an associate professor of higher education administration, feels compelled to represent that community – one that, according to his research, has not traditionally been a part of the public discussion.

“Up to this point, the narrative has always been around men of color and primarily focused on African American males,” Ponjuan said. “But – in a state like Texas – the Hispanic population is going to eclipse every other group and half of that population is participating in record number lows in enrollment and degree completion.”

Dr. Ponjuan has been working with Dr. Victor B. Saenz, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College, to co-found Project M.A.L.E.S. (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), a multi-faceted research and mentoring initiative.

After evaluating seven institutions across the state of Texas, the project is poised to enter into its second phase where researchers will focus on outlining and establishing what Ponjuan has termed “Collaborative Consciousness.”

“We recognize that if we are going to have conversations about what state of Texas institutions and schools are doing, it takes more than just awareness,” Ponjuan stated. “Collaborative Consciousness is a key concept that can help leaders and individuals who are considered champions for the cause to raise the consciousness of a community.

This step is vital to creating sustained commitment, support and achievement opportunities for Latino males in higher education institutions and schools throughout the state and across the nation.

“We recognize that if we are going to have conversations about what state of Texas institutions and schools are doing, it takes more than just awareness. Collaborative Consciousness is a key concept that can help leaders and individuals who are considered champions for the cause to raise the consciousness of a community.”

For media inquiries, contact our Media Relations Coordinator, Ashley Green.


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