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On-Site Staff / Staff Leadership and Management

What About the Boys?


I’ve been a long-time advocate for gender-responsive services for girls, but have repeatedly been asked, “what about the boys?”

Well, I feel the time has finally come to begin to address the issues that impact boys’ development (and trust me, there’s quite a few). This blog is by no means inclusive of EVERYTHING we need to know and continue to learn about in regards to connecting with our male students, but it’s a start, right?

So, what about the boys? Most school staff tell me similar stories that go something like this: “They’re just not making it. I have nowhere to refer for services. The kid needs a mentor. His dad is not in the picture- his mother is overwhelmed. He’s just not motivated to learn! He’ll be swallowed up by gangs by the time he gets to middle school. His grades are so low, I fear he’ll dropout. I’m not sure how to help- what do I do?

Sound familiar?? All too familiar, you might say. Overwhelmingly, the phone calls and emails I receive about boys seem to have similar common denominators. One of the most common factors is that the boy/young man is of color. Not only do gender-responsive services need to be developed for all boys but they must be culturally relative as well. One of the other common risk factors I notice with the youth I work with is the lack of positive male roles in their lives. Don’t get me wrong- there are plenty of great male role models (I just don’t always see that they are actively involved in the lives of my high-risk kids).

School personnel are first responders- we can see the paths some kids are on and naturally worry for them (and their future).

What is the reality for most of the boys you and I worry about? The statistics below will help paint a clearer picture:

  • Boys and young men of color are more likely to grow up in poverty (Manfre, 2010)
  • Boys of color are more likely to experience chronic exposure to trauma (Eckes and Radunovich, 2007)
  • Latino males have the highest annual dropout rate (22%), followed by American Indian/Alaska Natives (17%), and African-Americans at 12% (Lee and Ransom, 2011)
  • 95% of state and federal prisoners are males under the age of 25 (Department of Corrections)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools)

When I came across these statistics it became apparent to me that the lack of systems of care contribute to the ever-growing pipeline to prison for our male youth. I don’t want any of my students to become a statistic. The question is, how do I/we help them avoid it?

I’ll be the first to admit, I tend to get caught up in my “girls rock, hear us roar” bubble, as I provide a lot of services for girls.

However, I am an equal opportunity helper, and ask you (the Booster reading this blog), what are YOU doing to help your male students? Are there some magical strategies that you have attempted? Is there an exceptional mentoring program at your school or in your community? What culturally-appropriate techniques are you using in your after-school program? How is your program meeting the needs of the male students who are failing? Inquiring minds want to know!!! (okay, I really want to know). I am sure, or at least I hope, I am not the only person who wants to learn more about this.

There are some things happening that will lead to a curb in the daunting statistics. In case you haven’t heard, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has recently launched Forward Promise, a $9.5 million initiative “focused on the promoting opportunities for the health and success of middle school and high school-aged boys and young men of color” ( Specifically, the funding has been designated for community-based projects that will strengthen health, education, and employment outcomes for boys and young men of color. I’m sure this will yield some great stuff for kids but I feel a sense of urgency. Do YOU feel it?! Well, if you don’t, I feel it for you.

Those of us in education (especially those of us in prevention), know that we can’t always wait for the money to come.

We can’t wait for grants to be posted, an anonymous donor to just hand us some cash on a silver platter, or for our agencies to simply give us the money we need (ha! This last one is funny, isn’t it?!). I’ve had too many people in the last year ask me about services for boys, asking me “what are we doing?” So, I’ve decided to do something (well, I’ve decided to do a few things actually). Are you ready for my list? I hope so…once you put things in writing they are more likely to come to fruition, right?

Here we go…
(1) Research latest trends impacting young boys (especially boys of color)
**Do you have some cool articles, research, etc. that you want to share? If so, pass it along….after all, sharing is caring!

(2) Develop a resource handout that includes service providers that are effectively working with boys

(3) Coordinate a symposium or forum with schools and community partners to discuss strengths and weaknesses regarding current services in San Diego (sorry for all of you non-SD folks!)

(4) Work with leaders in schools and communities to offer training and support to those of us in the trenches (ahem, that’s ALL of you after-school people!)

(5) Work with parents/guardians to increase skills that can help boys BEAT the odds

(6) Meet with male youth to ask THEM what they need

(7) Be an advocate for gender-responsive services for BOTH girls and boys

Now, seven items may not seem like a lot to you.

However, since I already have a more than full-time job, these seven items seem like a lot to me. This is where YOU come in. Do you want to be a part of this call to action to help our young men?! If so, I’d love to hear your ideas and welcome your knowledge, suggestions, and whatever else you bring to the table- everyone brings something to the table. Hit me up- I’m open to learning about ways to get the ball rolling at the grassroots level.
Remember, we either put our brains together NOW or suffer the consequences later. As
Frederick Douglass said, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Lastly, I want to tell you what I had for breakfast. I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Kellogg’s cereal with a sliced banana. Not the most exciting breakfast but one that will get me through lunchtime (just about the time I will email this blog to the BOOST team)!

Until next time, Boosters!

Author: @gaby

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