Dr. Bernard X. James Sr. is as proud of his full name as he is the David Birney School in Logan. As the 2011-2012 academic year is coming to a close he is amazed how the teachers, administrators and other staff have joined together to improve the school environment. Yet they all came on board less than a year ago as the Birney School, with its lower and middle school grades, is a “turnaround” school.
James is particularly proud of the fact that there is a new “honor culture” at Birney. He is quick to note that often in lower income and working class inner-city communities those in the neighborhood may not celebrate the student scholars who consistently are on the honor roll. This is not the case at Birney, he said.
“We believe that all of our children can learn to read and read well,” said James. “Education is not just for a few. That means that we teach the students history, math, science and all the things to make them part of that honor culture.”
Aesthetics is an integral part of a strong curriculum, according to James. He said that while many of public schools across the nation are seeing cuts to their art, music and physical education budgets, which is not the case at Birney. In fact the students are all exposed to the performing arts, the visual arts, and even newer genres like spoken word.
“The arts teach the students about dignity of self,” James said, adding that John Graves teaches drama, dance, and music to the entire student body. “When you learn about your history together with literature and the arts and sciences you create an environment where education (can flourish). Our children then enter a world with a sense of that dignity and increased awareness.”
Another aspect of this “honors culture” is encouraging the students to set higher education as their goal. James is quick to point out that among the alma maters of the teachers are schools like Howard University, the University of Virginia, Temple University, Ohio State, and Morehouse College.
“The kids understand they are part of this culture. So as our staff works with the parents and the students together we can make that difference and it shows,” James said. “There’s a lot of treasure in these young earthen vessels. We just are working hard to bring all that treasure out.”