Every morning, the students at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, N.Y., recite these words: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” The phrase from the Victorian-era poem “Invictus” is an important reminder to one of the Bronx’s most at-risk populations, its young men.
Once seen as sexist and outdated, schools like the Eagle Academy have resurrected the all-male educational model to serve New York City's poorest boys, a group often feared to be more likely to go to prison than college. The Eagle Academy was the city's first all-boys public school in more than 30 years when it opened in the Bronx nine years ago.
“It's a movement to try and save our sons,” said David C. Banks, the founding principal of the school, who is now president of the Eagle Academy Foundation, the network's fundraising arm. Banks just opened his fifth Eagle Academy in Harlem and hopes to open two more New York City schools that will serve 4,000 students altogether. All the schools are located in high-poverty neighborhoods.
The Eagle Academies have shown promising results: The four-year graduation rate in 2012 for the Bronx Eagle Academy, the only location around long enough to have a graduating class, was 67.5 percent, beating the citywide average of 59.9 percent for boys. Graduates have gone to colleges including Syracuse University, Skidmore College, and Fordham University. Banks said as many as 4,000 students apply for every 100 Eagle Academy slots at the five schools.
Single-sex education has long been available to children in private schools, but it remains controversial in American public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues in its “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign that efforts to separate the sexes in the classroom are often rooted in gender stereotypes.
Michael Kimmel, a Stony Brook University sociologist whose work has been cited by the ACLU, said research has not proven that single-sex schools exert “an independent positive effect on education outcomes.” But he said anecdotal evidence supports schools for at-risk boys such as Eagle Academy. “They are obviously doing some real good,” Kimmel said.
Of the city's 20 single-sex public schools, 19 opened during the administration of outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They include all-girls schools such as the Young Women's Leadership Schools, a network that parallels the Eagle Academies. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio championed universal pre-kindergarten, but did not address single-sex education during his campaign.
Melanie Harmon’s sixth-grade son, Aaron, just started at the Harlem Eagle Academy after struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at his previous school. At an opening ceremony for her son’s school, all the adult men in the room were asked to stand up and show the boys how to tie a tie.
Harmon said Aaron is learning to focus without the added distraction of girls. She added, “They teach them to become responsible. They’re teaching him basically how to grow into a man.”