Most publicly-supported schools in the United States are co-ed, but there are some exceptions. In Dallas, Texas, an all-girls school, which opened in 2004, has consistently graduated stellar students.
Now, the district hopes its new all-boys school - the Barack Obama Leadership Academy - will do the same for boys when the school year resumes later this month.
Nakia Douglas, principal of the academy, has been giving many tours of the new school to incoming students and their parents.
Douglas was appointed, in part, because he used to be the kind of student this school wants.
Boys only need apply
“I was born and raised in south Dallas by a single parent," he says. "I was that child that I would work if I knew the teacher believed in me. But at the same time, I had a hunger and desire for more. A lot of our young men have that hunger and desire and ability now.”
Research by the U.S. Department of Education shows boys get worse grades and drop out more than girls. Studies have also found that boys mature more slowly than girls, and learn in different ways.
Combine that research with the age-old argument that boys are distracted by girls enough to interrupt learning, and Dallas school officials decided on this boys school approach. After all, they said, it worked for girls, why not for boys?
Kendell Keeter’s daughter just graduated from the Dallas School District’s only all girls’ school.
“Our thought was to also give our son an opportunity that would best prepare him for college in the same manner she was prepared," he says, "and I can’t imagine any other option that would have prepared her better so that’s what we’re looking forward to here.”
It’s what a lot of these parents, like Madeline Hayes, say they are looking for, too.
“This is something, as cheesy as it sounds, but what I’ve always dreamed about, that there will be a boy’s school that doesn’t charge $25,000 a year, but would give the same academics, the same level of interaction and leadership.”
Obama Academy, like the other magnet schools in Dallas - and other Texas cities - is not for everyone.
To be accepted, students must get good grades and pass a battery of academic tests. For now, the school teaches grades six through nine.
In addition of offering standard courses like English, history and math, there'll also be Latin, Mandarin, Spanish and aviation classes. College prep courses, along with weekday and weekend leadership sessions, enhance the curriculum.
“Our young men grow together. But all of our young men we call 'brother.' So it may be Brother Malyk Davis or Brother Sam Keeter," says Douglas. "The young men understand they are their brother’s keeper. And so the young men are really learning to be responsible not only for themselves but also for their brothers here at the campus."
Madeline Hayes’s son, Kelvin, 12, wants it all as he enters 7th grade.
“I’ve always wanted a higher academic purpose, always wanted somebody to challenge me when I make mistakes. I can learn from them," says Kelvin. "Then classes like science, computers, robotics, I enjoy them, especially robotics, building new technology. Because when I grow up I want to be an engineer.”
When Malyk Davis, 14, grows up, he wants to cook. He’s already been mentored by a professional chef and will study culinary arts at Obama. But the suburban resident admits he's still unsure about the boys-only aspect of the school. Safety is also a concern, considering the bad things he’s heard about Oak Cliff, the neighborhood where the school is located.
"But once I began to look at the options that they were having, I think I’m really going to enjoy this," he says. "It’s going to be a long and tough road, but as long as I’m graduating in 2015, that’s all that matters to me.”
Unlike Dallas’s other select magnet schools, which require high entrance scores, 10-to-15 percent of the seats at Obama Academy are reserved for boys who don't meet all of its academic requirements.
According to Douglas, the slots will go to deserving students whose character and desire qualify them for entrance into the unique program.