Charles R. Hunt II, Principal at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School

Principal Charles R. Hunt II is a veteran urban school leader with over twenty years of experience serving minority subgroups in urban school settings.  He is currently the principal of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington D.C., an all-male high school that was created to prepare males of color for college in a restorative practices school culture.  He believes that traditional approaches to educating black and brown males were proved ineffectual decades ago.  Innovative approaches to teaching and learning in urban settings are crucial in a post-pandemic educational setting.


Since becoming a high school English teacher in the early 2000s, I have placed myself in academic situations in which I have been tasked to provide equitable, rigorous, differentiated, and meaningful learning experiences for students considered to be members of marginalized subgroups.  While marginalized subgroups run the gamut from economically disadvantaged white students to Hispanic male students in America’s public education system; the marginalized groups in the schools where I have taught have been the black and brown males.  Since these students were eight years old or in the third grade, they have been indirectly made to feel like the outcasts of their classrooms.  They have unceremoniously earned the rank of the first to be last in many of the benchmark and culminating state standardized assessments they are administered each school year.  Since 1970, when the first subgroup data was first tracked, disaggregated, and reported to the public, a narrative of inferiority began to be scripted not only in the field of education but in society at large.  Standardized test scores began to be surreptitiously used as leverage by politicians, banks, and sadly, school districts across America.

With over forty years of data that has proven that America’s urban public schools have historically failed a minority subgroup for over four decades, why hasn’t pedagogy been altered to better serve the subgroups who perennially underperform on standardized assessments every school year?  Many of the answers lie in conspiracy, systemic racism, or sustainability of the status quo.  One answer no matter who you are reigns supreme, something must be done, and it must be done differently.  In this article, I will outline how the narrative of the black and brown male in the public school classroom can be shifted.   I will discuss the mindset a school district and/or community must adopt to change the narrative, the components that must be a part of a school culture serving black and brown males, and lastly, the academic framework that can change the trajectory of data among marginalized subgroups.

The process of improving the overall quality of the educational experience for marginalized subgroups begins with intention.  To counter years of systemic educational marginalization, academies, initiatives, pathways, and programs that result in higher ed and workforce applicable skills must be established.  When black and brown males realize that a system has been created specifically for them; they will begin to develop an intention of their own [to succeed].  I have been fortunate to have been hired to lead an organization that was specifically created to equitably prepare males of color for college in 2020.   It was the first public school of its kind in the area, and many families eagerly enrolled their sons in 2016.  The school was initially marketed as providing a restorative practices culture that included community circles and restorative circles when student discipline was needed.  While the circles proved to be an effective strategy for establishing a healthy school culture, there was no academic framework outside of the traditional pedagogy the students received in their elementary and middle schools.  Not being intentional about establishing an innovative academic framework proved to be detrimental to the school’s early enrollment numbers.

Attracted to the school’s single-gender (all-male) makeup as a Morehouse College graduate and as a school leader who believed in and implemented restorative practices in the last organization I led; I applied to be the principal of this organization in 2020.  Tasked with establishing an academic framework that would create sustainability in student enrollment and build capacity in students to attend four-year colleges and universities, I had my work cut out for me.  Early in my career as a high school English teacher I learned that all educators truly have at their disposal each school day is leverage.  No matter what type of innovative framework that is established, educators must have a commodity that can be used to create buy-in and ensure that the quality of the experience is meaningful for those it serves.  I am fortunate to be leading a unique organization in one of the most unique landscapes in America, the nation’s capital.  This historic city with access to government, higher education institutions, unique architecture, and an expansive history would be my leverage to establish an experiential learning framework.  After reviewing several academic frameworks proven to be successful in urban organizations, experiential learning was one of the few that would remove the boys from the very setting that deemed them inferior, the classroom.

The first ten minutes of every class is winning or losing time for every instructor.  Strategically crafting warm-up activities and opening writing assignments are how many teachers are directed to plan their lessons.  Being mindful that our students have been made to feel inferior in the eight years leading up to high school, our teachers are directed to focus on mindfulness for the first 5-7 minutes of each class period they teach.  All classes begin with an opening classroom circle that involves all students iterating positive affirmations of their identity i.e. “I will be successful today.”  Students then move to the shoutout portion of the circle in which they offer words of celebration or encouragement to a member of the school community, i.e. “ I want to shout out Marcus for his excellent presentation in class yesterday.” The circle closes with an external situation discussed among the group. These discussions range from current events and/or topics the students are interested in discussing with the teacher.   The opening classroom circles build camaraderie and create a dynamic for our teachers to engage students in experiential learning.

Experiential learning provides teachers with a new perspective on delivering rigorous instruction.  It is an approach that breaks the monotony for educators from probationary teachers to veteran teachers.  It is a framework that provides platforms for students to learn while being involved in social situations that increase their capacity for learning.  The beauty of the framework is that teachers can deliver experiential learning in multiple forms.  Our organization focuses on the following: Field experiences across metropolitan Washington D.C., Guest speakers who are experts in their fields, and cross-curricular learning activities that involve teachers from different contents co-planning a lesson.  Our teachers are encouraged to educate in ways they have never taught before, and our students are being directed to learn in ways they never have before.  Both groups have welcomed the change after operating in oppressive educational protocols for years.

To effectively deliver an experiential education to students, pathways and programs must be established.  Assessing the aspirations of the student body is the best place to start.  Our students applied to our school to be educated differently, so the feedback that we received from surveys was that they wanted non-traditional learning experiences, they wanted an education that would provide them with skills relevant to present society (content creation, effective communication, agency, and advocacy) and they wanted more exposure to colleges and universities over the course of their four years in high school.  Next, leveraging the skills of our current staff was key in establishing programming.  Our school’s horticultural science program is led by an instructor with a passion for gardening and providing black and brown males with experiences they would not typically have in urban schools.  Our audio/visual pathway is led by an instructor with a passion for creating art through photography and video editing, and our third pathway is led by an IT instructor with a mission to teach black and brown boys computer coding.

Through intention, innovation, and a restorative approach to urban education, the narrative of marginalization and oppression of black and brown males can be altered and rewritten altogether.  It is time for antiquated instruction to be written out of curriculums that serve these subgroups if we truly care about posterity in public education.

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