published Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Brainerd may create Village Nation

  • photo
    Glen Bragg, left, greets Fluke Fluker after his speaking engagement at Chattanooga State Community College on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Fluker, a nationally recognized expert on urban education and the black-white achievement gap, spoke on his experiences in education on Tuesday.
    Photo by Jake Daniels.
    enlarge photo

IF YOU GO

Who: Fluke Fluker, national education activist and co-founder of Village Nation

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, 1115 N. Moore Road

After taking all the black students out of class, the black teachers, janitors and cafeteria workers at Cleveland High School in Los Angeles took turns telling the teens that they loved them, that education was important and that they could have more in their lives.

Surrounding the students in a circle, some staff members preached with thunder, while others talked with tears.

It was a wake-up call for a group of students that performed lower than all other racial groups at the school, even lower than students who were learning English as a second language. For some, it was the first time they knew adults at school cared abut them.

That talk turned out to be the first meeting of Village Nation, an in-school community designed to lead students to make better choices in life. Teachers say those choices led to years of improved test scores among black students at the school. In fact, test scores grew so rapidly, they nearly prompted a state investigation.

Some are hoping the success at Cleveland High, and other schools that embraced the Village Nation model, can be replicated here in Chattanooga.

Fluke Fluker, one of the teachers who created the concept, visited Tuesday with Chattanooga State Community College students and staff. Today, he'll spend time at Brainerd High School before giving a community presentation tonight at Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church.

Fluker said he and local leaders are exploring whether the Village Nation model could work at Brainerd High. Principal Charles Joynes already has implemented some similar methods at the school to snap students out of their apathy and inspire them to want more in their lives.

"What he has done complements and sets things up for what we are proposing to do," Fluker said.

He added, however, that he's not trying to come in and act as Superman. Any local effort would need buy-in from the community and the support of teachers, families and students, he said.

"We have the way. The question is: Do we have the collective will to do this?" he said.

Fluker said adults have failed this generation of black youth, which is plagued by violence, poverty and lower academic achievement.

"Our kids are dying," he said. "Our young kids have old eyes -- they've seen too much."

Fluker is one of several black men featured in the book "Brother to Brother," which includes stories of success and overcoming obstacles. It and its companion book, "Sister to Sister," have been used in dozens of schools and communities to motivate and inspire young black men and women.

Locally, the book has been distributed at Brainerd High and Chattanooga State. Fluker said more than 5,000 people have received the book in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga State students said they received many moving responses after passing out hundreds of copies of the books to students and staff members of all races.

"We realized it wasn't a color problem. It was a people problem," said student Latarsha Walton.

Walton, a Brainerd graduate and mother of two college-aged boys, said the world has changed dramatically since her time in high school some 20 years ago.

She blames increased rates of violence, teen pregnancy and incarceration of young blacks on a lack of parental and community involvement. That's why a program such as Village Nation could be crucial in breaking those cycles in Chattanooga, she said.

"I had loving parents. I had a loving family. And a lot of people don't," Walton said. "I was always pushed. But some people don't have anyone behind them."

Fluker's visit to Chattanooga was sponsored by Chattanooga State, Brainerd High and local pastors, said Carlous Drake, director of Building Outstanding Scholars, a freshmen mentoring program for young minority men at Chattanooga State. The BOSS program is looking to help 50 Brainerd students transition from high school to college this summer.

Drake, who is familiar with Brainerd's student body, said he thinks a program like Village Nation could help here. But whatever solution is found to turn around the lives of young black students, the entire community needs to step up to help in the cause, he said.

"There are various solutions, this just happens to be one that I believe in," he said. "I think it would be a shame for any section of the community not to join in with the solution."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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