School of the Week: Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men

Customize, Care and Challenge all a part of the Young Men of Frederick Douglass Academy

“Winning With a Tie!”

The 23 graduates of the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, pictured in the lobby of the school with red and blue bow ties and blue blazers, completed the program with both a love of learning, and a love of discipline.

Both are necessary ingredients in an educational environment focused on successful young men. That focus is made clearer and sharper when one major distraction is removed from the school setting: young women.

“They simply don’t have to show out all the time for the girls,” notes third year Principal Berry Greer during an hour-long conversation throughout the school last Thursday.
Teaching young men how to tie a bow tie, and discipline in general, is key for Greer, a veteran DPS teacher, administrator, King HS Band Director for 13 years, and also former military police officer with stations at Fort Bragg, Ft. Knox, Ft. Riley and during Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia.

Sixty percent of Douglass’ men choose to participate in the JROTC program, not to follow Greer’s military footsteps but for its impact on their self-esteem and character.

“We let the kids know this is a leadership program. They learn how to conduct themselves properly and develop that love of discipline,” Principal Greer says. “They grow. They go home in that uniform and people say to them, ‘Man, you look good in the neighborhood,’ and as a result they look at themselves differently.”

The weekly Wednesday ROTC uniform is a necessary regimen. When Count Day, a Wednesday, became a school-district wide emphasis on an eased dress code, Frederick Douglass’ men returned the following day on Thursday in the green and black uniforms.

“We work very hard to try to stay away from that ‘casual register,’ “ says Greer.

On the other school days and for those young men not in the program, the blazer and tie and black dress shoes uniform is equally essential on a campus with an attendance rate greater than 90% and with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders in every classroom and hallway and around every corner. On an office door, a Dress for Success poster extolls: “So you don’t think the clothes make the man? Think again!!”

Another quote: When the Men Stand up, the Boys Sit Down.

“Good morning, sir.”

When Greer leaves his office after checking the previous day’s attendance, including the 100% participation of 54 evening students, the note on his door informs visitors of his whereabouts:

Out Learning.

The greetings start at 7:30 at the front door each school day, and seemingly every interaction and every answer to adults’ questions ends with a respectful “sir.” Yes, sir.

Good, sir.

With one: “ ‘Education,’ how are you?” “Good, sir.”

And the next: “I’m tired, sir. I got up late.” “That’s because you spend too much time with that TV late at night…” “Yes, sir.”

Some are a work in progress, Greer says.

We are a team.

Here all but two staff members arrived in 2012 when Douglass, like all Detroit Public Schools that summer, had the opportunity to transform the teaching ranks through an interview/selection process for all. Six who had worked together in another alternative school setting at the former Detroit City High joined the ranks.

For both the new and the returning, the Principal refers to each as “one of my School Improvement Superstars” (Mrs. Rucker) or “the Best Journalism teacher” (Mr. Walters). All demonstrate buy-in and bring special experiences and/or expertise to the unique single-gender framework here, including Mr. Iroha who attended an all-male academy in Africa.

By 8:20 this morning, four weeks into the fall semester, the air is still a bit foggy outdoors, but the atmosphere inside is focused and serious. Every classroom is highly functioning with students in attention, teachers interacting with instructional technology, and small group assistance being provided to those who need it.

“We come here to work hard now, and play later.”

Sometimes the latter takes effort as well, given the students’ immersion in single gender confines for most of each day. Last year’s Halloween Dance presented an initial challenge for the Douglass men in the company of the young women from DPS sister school Detroit International Academy. The dance began with more than typical sideline sitting, although everyone eventually enjoyed the dance.

We Are Men of Integrity.

Putting on that uniform means representing one’s self, family, and school, school leaders say.

Greer used a Wednesday assembly to remind the young men of Frederick Douglass that there are a total of 225 other adults in the school building which uniquely shares the campus with numerous DPS district-wide support and parent-student services offices.

“You have to be in a position to conduct yourselves properly. You never know who may be watching.”

They also have a desire to know how the top schools function. A student asked if they could travel to Renaissance High School to witness that environment. “They just want to do well,” he says.

Douglass students from 6th grade on are also afforded small class size. For three families whose young men’s success depends upon this small school’s disciplined setting for middle and high school, siblings attend here.

One of the students in the Senior Class photo sought to leave Fredrick Douglass Academy for the comprehensive array of programs in another DPS high school, only to return two days later during the course of 12th grade. “Mr. Greer, can I come back? I couldn’t concentrate,” he stated.

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