Stand-up Kids: The PRAISE Academy helps boys lift themselves.
Johns Hopkins University
Objective: Develop the academic and social skills of middle school-aged African-American boys in Baltimore and increase their parents’ involvement in their lives.
In a Nutshell: PRAISE is a weekend program for young males, the majority of whom live in Baltimore City. Each Saturday, participants meet in a circle to discuss how a good deed made them feel. They usually break into two groups for such activities as math, art, Spanish, tai chi and yoga. The boys also conduct community service projects and visit nearby universities, and they are planning a trip to Canada. Each youth is matched with an adult mentor and a financial sponsor.
The parents of PRAISE students meet once a month for group sessions and can enroll in PRAISE-sponsored workshops on such issues as effective discipline, nutrition, financial management and child development.
When and Where It Happens: The youths and teachers meet three Saturdays each month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in classrooms at Johns Hopkins. The boys check in with their sponsors once a month.
Who Started It and Who Runs It: PRAISE was founded in 2004 in response to the high drop-out rate among the city’s African-American males and the shortage of high-quality programs dealing with that issue. It is run as a partnership between Baltimore’s Urban Leadership Institute (founded by former teachers LaMarr Darnell Shields and David Miller) and the School of Education at Johns Hopkins. Director Scott Johnson presides over a staff of five teachers and two high school volunteers, and Richard Rowe serves as the parent liaison. Parents of participating youths must volunteer at PRAISE for a minimum of 15 hours each year.
Overcoming Obstacles: One challenge is “convincing boys why they need to be in school on a Saturday, when many of them don’t go to school during the week,” Shields says. He says that by incorporating athletic activities and sessions with local celebrities, PRAISE has maintained a 90 percent weekly attendance rate.
Cost: The annual budget is $80,000.
Who Pays: The major contributors are the Weinberg and Baltimore Community foundations. In addition, PRAISE’s “40/40 Club” is composed of African-American men who each sponsor a youth for three years at $1,500 a year.
Youth Served: PRAISE works with 40 youths at a time, ages 11 through 14, most of whom live in communities plagued by crime and poverty. All participants commit themselves to the program for three years. It has served 120 youths since it began. Participants are accepted after completing fifth grade and a summer leadership academy.
Youth Turn-On: “Meeting the Baltimore Ravens,” Shields says.
Youth Turn-Off: If they misbehave, boys have to do physical workouts, such as running laps and doing push-ups.
Research Shows: PRAISE was evaluated in 2006 by Johns Hopkins professor Alan Green, who found that for youth who consistently attend, PRAISE “appears to have a positive effect” on academic achievement (especially math) and social functioning.
What Still Gets in the Way: “Many of boys are stigmatized because of behavior, academics, or because of how they dress in their regular school,” Shields says. “They don’t believe they will live to see 18, because of what someone has told them or what they might have witnessed themselves. It’s a challenge for our staff to erase the negative things they might receive at school, and to convince them of the infinite possibilities” of life.