With only 8% of young black men having graduated from Philly’s public high schools going on to get a four-year college degree, the first place that does not pop to mind in thinking of the success rate in American cities of high-school graduates, especially black graduates, is Philadelphia. But in an iffy part of West Philly, where taking Latin is not an option, “it’s a requirement,” more black boys go to college at all-black Boys’ Latin than from any other school in Philly, reports William McGurn in the WSJ.
This month the school received the results on the introductory level National Latin Exam, a test taken last year by students around the world. Among the highlights: Two Boys’ Latin students had perfect scores; 60% of its seventh-graders were recognized for achievement, 20% for outstanding achievement; and the number of Boys’ Latin students who tested above the national average doubled from the year before.
“I invite anyone who doubts what this does for our students to come to a graduation and watch 100 black boys sharply dressed in caps and gowns and proudly reciting their school pledge in Latin,” says the school’s chief executive officer, David Hardy. “Not only is this an unexpected sight, it defies the low expectations society puts on young black men.”
Boys’ Latin, where there is a waiting list to get in, is not immune to the wretched challenges facing every W. Philly neighborhood–drug dealers, gangs, struggling single moms. The difference is the school does not allow these cancers to be an excuse for not achieving. In February, Boys’ Latin, along with what Mr. McGurn calls Mr. Hardy’s “merry band” of students, helped launch a campaign called #blackdegreesmatter “to highlight why college, and the higher lifetime earnings it generally brings, is so vital for young black men.”
Young black males, Mr. Hardy says, get plenty of messages that they are not good enough, that excellence is beyond their reach and that college is for other people. The beauty of Boys’ Latin is that every day its students see examples of young black men challenging the reigning tropes of underachievement.
“Nobody expects black boys to do Latin, because it’s hard,” says Mr. Hardy. “And that’s exactly why we do it.”
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