DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – From neighborhood embarassment to national example.
It is a new day at Billy Earl Dade Middle School in south Dallas. “They have a sense of pride,” said Rev. Donald Parish, president of the school’s site-based decision making committee. “Even though some of them still live in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Dallas, they still carry themselves like they are somebody.”
A few years back, the campus was on the state’s list of poor performing schools, deemed ‘improvement required.’ Then, an influx of cash through the district’s Accelerating Campus Excellence program lured proven leaders to the campus, extended the learning day, and success followed.
“It is my staff,” insisted principal Tracie Washington, “my dynamic teachers. I have to remind them all the time that they are miracle workers.”
Last month, a planned mentor breakfast set the stage for another miracle. Campus and community leaders put out a call for mentors because many of the students are growing up without fathers. They hoped that 50 people would come. Instead, some 600 men showed up.
“There are no words,” said Washington. “I am absolutely speechless. I am grateful. I am moved to tears. That experience rings in my kids every day. ‘When am I gonna see my mentor again?’ It’s making a difference.”
It’s making a difference, organizers said, for both the mentors, and for the students. Parish helped organize the event. “To see the kids walk into the auditorium and have all these guys applauding? The looks on their faces, if you didn’t get emotional, you don’t have a pulse,” he said.
According to Parish, men of all races responded to the call for mentors — driving in from Plano, Frisco, Oak Cliff and even as far away as Waco.
One of those men who responded to the appeal came from CBS 11 News. “Those young men, they were me growing up,” said CBS 11 News photojournalist Wirt Jackson. He grew up in a single parent home, and was touched by the appeal for men to grab ties and show up, to show the students at the school how to tie them. “It made me feel really good. I have two sons. Growing up without a dad in the house, it can be a difficult upbringing… it’s challenging for the mom to raise men, and I just wanted to do my part to help out.”
The story, and the community’s response, has now gone national. But, that breakfast is not the only reason that the nation is noticing. Visitors from around the country have come to learn how the campus went from ‘improvement required’ to ‘role model.’
Community leaders insist that excellent, stable campus leadership makes success possible — in spite of the big city challenges.
“If you are an educator, and if your desire is to truly educate, you should never run from a campus that needs improvement,” said Parish. “A light shines brightest where it’s darkest. Too many of us lights want to be where it’s already well lit.”