It’s Monday, 8 o’clock in the morning, and over the intercom you hear Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men’s principal, Dr. Dameion Crook, reminding students that it is blazer day. The students who are already wearing their blazers, with the school’s embroidered crest on it, sit a little taller in their seats. The others who may have forgotten, reach into their backpacks to pull out their slightly wrinkled blazers, and then get right back to work.
Being a student at the Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men (MLCPA) means rising to the occasion – whether it be how they dress or how they prepare for an exam.
“This school has helped me find myself as a student and decide what I want to do with my life,” says junior Lyell Davis when describing his overall experience since enrolling at the school.
Originally named the Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy, MLCPA is proudly named after Mickey Leland – a former U.S. Congressman and anti-poverty activist who proudly represented the 18th Congressional District before his untimely death in a plane crash. Leland, who grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward, graduated from Wheatley High School – the very spot where MLCPA’s new campus is being built.
MLCPA is a magnet school in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) currently serving grades 6-12, offering a high quality, rigorous, education, modeled after single-gender private schools, for a public school fee. MLCPA students not only develop academically, but also foster leadership skills and the ability to make healthy and responsible decisions. The student makeup of MLCPA is extremely diverse with 47 percent of the students being African American, 47 percent being Hispanic, 3 percent being White and 2 percent being Asian.
Another interesting statistic is that 74 percent of the enrolled students are considered Economically Disadvantaged.
This growing group of uniformed scholars is turning heads all around the country. Most recently, MLCPA ranked second on The Washington Post’s prestigious annual “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list, which ranks schools by the number of AP classes they offer and the number of seniors who graduate.
Dr. Crook, who is the founding principal, helped get the school off the ground after his stint as principal of the historic E. O. Smith Education Center. Since the founding of Mickey Leland in 2011, the school has dedicated itself to Dr. Crook’s vision of a single-gender secondary school that not only academically prepares young men for college, but builds their leadership skills and moral character. Though qualities of a school of this caliber are normally reserved for private education, MLCPA is proud to serve a population that’s 74% economically disadvantaged, offering the best and most rigorous education to the most deserving students.
“At Mickey Leland, our goal is to be the best school in HISD for young men,” says Dr. Crook. “Every aspect of our school program is designed to enable young men to be successful. We prepare our young men to be thoughtful leaders who know how to set and attain high personal and professional goals. We believe that our focused approach is critical to helping boys realize their full potential. Mickey Leland College Prep Academy is a place where boys become men.”
Dr. Crook states that selling the idea of a single-gender school for boys wasn’t an easy task, but that many residents and families have seen the benefits and appreciate the concept.
“The biggest challenge I faced with opening an all-boys school was introducing the single gender public education concept to the Houston community,” says Dr. Crook. “Surprisingly, the vast majority of our young men don’t have a problem with it. Young people nowadays socialize very differently from the way we did twenty years ago. Their primary means of socialization is via social media, which gives them access and opportunity to meet new friends 24/7. While single gender private schools have existed for years, we are funded through public resources and tax dollars. So, it was important to educate the Houston community about the value and importance of single-gender education.”
Since first opening in 2011, MLCPA has done extremely well academically.
In the Class of 2016, 100 percent of the graduates were accepted to a 4-year college or university and received $2.5 million dollars in scholarship monies. The school prepares students for the rigors of college by requiring them to take exclusively Pre-AP and AP courses.
“What really sets us apart is our Advanced Placement or ‘AP for All’ concept,” says Dr. Crook. “Our young men are required to take at least 12 AP courses before they graduate from Mickey Leland. This is critical because nationally, there is lack of access to high quality AP courses for young men of color, which by the way is our largest demographic. So, we are debunking the myth that students of color cannot be successful in AP courses. As you know, AP courses are invaluable. They help students gain the skills and study habits they need to be successful in college. They will improve in areas of writing, problem-solving, time-management skills, and help students stay focused on academic coursework and academic goals. Additionally, research shows that students who take AP courses and exams are more likely to graduate college on time; the gains are greatest for low-income students and students of color.”
MLCPA offers 15 Honors courses (Pre-AP) and 15 AP courses. Enrollment is open to all students and there are no limits on the number of Pre-AP and/or AP courses a student may enroll in each year. All students enrolled in an advanced placement class sit for the AP Test which is paid for by the district. There is no “regular” option, because the school aims to graduate nothing less than exceptional students. Graduates from MLCPA find themselves better prepared and unfazed by common difficulties faced during freshman year of college, such as work load, study skills, and assignments that require a high-level of critical thinking.
Joshua Igbonebe, a sophomore at MLCPA, says, “I definitely feel ahead of other people in my grade level at other schools, because I started taking AP classes earlier than most students do. Instead of slacking off and taking normal classes, it makes more sense to take Pre-AP and AP classes to stay ahead and have a higher GPA.”
All MLCPA students graduate with the Distinguished Level of Achievement on the Foundations High School Program. The plan requires 26 credits and a choice of endorsement, with options such as STEM (Math, Science and Robotics), Multidisciplinary (Advanced Placement) and Business/Industry (Computer Programming). In the next school year, MLCPA will be the first HISD campus to offer CPE for all, with every student taking computer science classes.
MLCPA aims not only for its students to excel academically, but to find their intellectual home in the world. Each student at MLCPA works exclusively with community partners to provide students of all backgrounds with the opportunity to explore a wide range of enrichment programs, helping them to develop skills critical for their college and career experience.
“At Mickey Leland we foster a culture of high expectations shared by everyone – teachers, parents, staff, and students,” says Dr. Crook. “Central to this culture is the conviction that our young men can achieve and succeed academically. We maintain our high expectations by continuously monitoring the academic performance and development of our young men. Specifically, we use assessment data to identify problematic areas of learning for our young men, so we can aggressively address the gap in their learning.”
MLCPA high school scholars participate in a wide variety of once-in-a-lifetime summer educational opportunities all over the country and world, from Rice University to New York, and all the way to Japan. The MLCPA team aims to provide numerous fundraising opportunities to ensure that each student is able to attend the programs they are accepted into.
“The Discover U Program on our campus gave me the confidence and push I needed to get accepted into the program and take advantage of this exciting opportunity,” says Cameron Alonso, an MLCPA junior who traveled to Madrid, Spain, with CIEE Language and Culture to study Spanish.
MLCPA’s extra-curricular activities are diverse and numerous. Their award-winning robotics team regularly competes in FIRST’s FTC and FRC competitions around the nation and was recently ranked 16th in the state.
MLCPA’s award-winning programmer, freshman Andres Salas, says, “MLCPA Robotics has had a revolutionary impact in my entire outlook of life, not only opening doors to careers I never thought were for me, but by boosting my self-confidence to new heights.”
In UIL, students compete in areas such as math, calculator applications, number sense, and science. Aside from academic activities, MLCPA’s athletics program shines, earning the champion title in 7th and 8th grade cross country and 7th and 8th grade basketball, as well being named the 1st tournament winner for 7th and 8th grade baseball.
The athletics program plans to see a big expansion with the state-of-the-art building, which will provide space for the athletes to practice hard and become the best that they can be. An HISD bond worth $42,402,000 was awarded to MLCPA for the construction of their new campus, located at 1701 Bringhurst in Houston’s Fifth Ward. The campus will accommodate 900-1000 students, which will be a welcome change for MLCPA’s growing population of scholars.
In its short history, MLCPA has achieved in abundance and has earned a reputation as a beacon for young men with bright minds. With the ever-increasing interest in the programs being offered at MLCPA, coupled with the christening of their new building, big things appear to be on the horizon for the Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men.