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Patrick Henry High is the perfect school to host Michelle Obama

Patrick Henry High School
CC/Flickr/edkohler
Located in the far northwest corner of the city, Patrick Henry is the local epicenter of an effort near and dear to the Obamas' hearts.

You know what’s cooler than POTUS eating a Jucy Lucy with a commoner at Matt's Bar?

FLOTUS momentarily drawing the nation’s attention to Patrick Henry High School, one of Minneapolis’ perennially overlooked public school gems.

There are any number of reasons why Henry deserves the spotlight, including academic indicators that have earned it the state’s “reward” label — designating it as a school where students are able to achieve — despite a 90 percent poverty rate. 

But there’s another reason why Michelle Obama’s Tuesday afternoon visit is especially sweet. Located in the far northwest corner of the city, Patrick Henry is the local epicenter of an effort near and dear to the Obamas' hearts. 

It’s an effort that has the teenage boys at Patrick Henry buzzing with pride that the president looks like them, and has talked movingly to the nation about their shared experience. 

A little context: In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing in Florida, President Barack Obama noted that if he had a son, “He’d look like Trayvon.”

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” Obama told the New York Times. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

Among the civil rights and education efforts the White House announced last winter was My Brother’s Keeper, an effort to support and celebrate black and brown boys.

That sort of support is particularly needed here. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have been singled out for the severely disparate rates at which they discipline African American boys. In fact, Minneapolis Public Schools recently voluntarily entered into an agreement with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights to make radical changes to its policies.

Nationwide, 95 percent of suspensions are for nonviolent misbehavior such as being disruptive or disrespectful. And research has shown that if students have three suspensions by ninth grade, they are almost certain not to graduate high school. 

African-American students without disabilities are three times as likely as their peers to be suspended, and much more likely to be suspended two or more times in a year. One in six was excluded from school at least once in the 2009-2010 school year, a rate that skyrockets to more than one in three among black high-school students with disabilities.

Which brings us back to Patrick Henry. About the same moment Obama launched My Brother's Keeper, Patrick Henry Principal Latanya Daniels had a parallel epiphany. The group College Possible was doing a tremendous job positioning Patrick Henry students to enter and complete college; they also had the capacity to work with more kids. But there weren’t enough black males who met the admissions bar of a 2.0 grade point average in 10th grade.

Daniels and then principal-in-training Crystal Ballard decided to begin working differently with all the school's 76 black ninth-grade boys. Their ideas jibed remarkably well with the kinds of efforts imagined by My Brother’s Keeper.

Long story short: That's how, last spring, the Patrick Henry team ended up getting invited to a White House gathering to kick off My Brother's Keeper. That event that was eventually followed by another galvanizing day at the school, when 100 African American men showed up to talk about the boys’ future.

And now comes Michelle Obama, accompanied by the warm glow of the spotlight. Yes, she’s here stumping for Democrats up for re-election, including Sen. Al Franken, who has previously drawn attention to Patrick Henry’s high-tech programming.

Never mind what happens at the ballot box, there’s no way having the First Lady visit the high school isn’t a rich recognition.

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Comments (2)

Nice recognition, nice column

Well done, Patrick Henry faculty, families and students. Well done, Beth.

Ditto

Well done, Patrick Henry. It's my corner of Minneapolis, and I'm happy to join the cheerleading.