Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Learning to make hard choices

If you want to see a model of what public education can and should be in America’s inner cities you don’t need to look further than Richmond Community High School (RCHC). Established in 1977 as America's first full-time, four year, public high school for academically talented students primarily from minority and low-income families, it fosters a culture of high expectations and high standards.

Entry is competitive but the school is looking for attitude as much as academic talent. Students participate in the selection process and do not let one another fail. Parental involvement is expected. The first year includes a camping trip to encourage bonding. All students complete a well-researched paper and present it to an audience as part of graduation requirement. RCHS has a 100 percent graduation rate and almost everyone goes on to college, often with major scholarships.    

Two of our sons attended RCHS. They received a good education but they also learned something about problem solving and how to interact with people of different racial and social backgrounds. They both say this was invaluable preparation for the real world. One of the pleasures of recent years has been seeing their classmates succeed in their careers and blossom into productive and responsible citizens.         

This past weekend Susan and I went to see a new feature film by Patrick "Praheme" Ricks who graduated from RCHS with our son Mark in 2002. Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions is about choices. The story follows Tristan, a typical adolescent boy facing the pressures of urban life where there are few good role models. His mother (his father is in jail) enrolls him the Boy Scouts to keep him off the streets. But when he witnesses a murder, the shooter – a neighborhood thug – warns him of the consequences of being a “snitch.” Tristan has to choose whether to follow the code of the streets or the code of the Scouts.

Produced with a half-million dollar budget by Virginia actor, comedian and director Tim Reid, the film is inspiring and authentic. It pulls no punches in its message. I hope that it receives the wide distribution it deserves. Thousands of boys and young men face the same daily challenges as Tristan. They need encouragement and the courage to make good choices. 

RCHS should be enormously proud of Praheme – and all of its graduates. Certainly “Troop 491” should be a great recruiting tool for the Boy Scouts!

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