The number of black boys usually equals the number of black girls in elementary schools. In middle and high school, however, you begin to see a decline in the number of boys who show up for class, especially honors or advanced placement classes. College demographics are no better when it comes to black males, where females outnumber males 3 to 2 on black college campuses.

And with black males making up 5 percent of the college population but 36 percent of the prison population, some would think there is some type of conduit that transports our young black men out the education system and into the penal system. There is. It is whatfs commonly referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline, policies and practices that send ‘at-risk” students to ineffective schools, push underperforming students out of schools, and police students for their behavior instead of providing them with services that address the root of the problem. Ultimately these practices are what the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) believes lead students into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Although parents can visit www.stopschoolstojails.org to find out how to disconnect this pipeline, there are more immediate things they can do to give their children the ability to steer clear. @

Communicate emotions

Boys are socialized not to feel. Intimidating them into ‘staying strong” when they get hurt, both physically and emotionally, we teach boys to mask their emotions or default altogether to anger. While this mode of operation may work well on a football field or survive on the streets of high-crime, high-poverty areas, in a more structured environment like school, boys tend to rack up infractions. This leads to suspensions and expulsion. To keep young men from setting themselves up for harsh disciplinary actions, we must teach them how to appropriately express their feelings to teachers, staff members, and other students instead of retaliating with harsh words, punches and/or weapons.

The best way is by letting them see you do it, but there are also parenting resources that you can use to teach boys to be better emotional communicators. Ask for resources on social and emotional awareness at one of the parent/teacher stores closest to you, or search online for free or inexpensive resources and lessons on the subject. For young boys, you will find a wealth of information at the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: csefel.vanderbilt.edu/index.html.

Be a mentor/advocate

Being a mentor and an advocate for your son involves listening to his joys and frustrations, helping him complete special projects and homework, and talking to others who can help your son when you canft. If this is the level of involvement you already have with your son, take it a step further and become a mentor and advocate for the child you know without one. Unfortunately, many of us can name at least three boys who are nearly raising themselves because their parents or caregivers are physically, mentally, and/or emotionally unavailable. Perhaps you can take the opportunity to be a mentor or positive role model who can encourage a childfs healthy development by consistently asking him about his school day or involving him in activities with your own children instead of tsk, tsk, tsk-ing him as he hangs out on the block.

Support academic success

Nearly 70 percent of the prison population did not complete high school. This does more than hint at the connection between low student achievement and incarceration. It seems that while some parents want their children to achieve academic success, they demand it from their children instead of working with them to get it. I often hear parents say, after many failed and frustrating attempts at helping their sons: ‘If he wants to fail or repeat (insert grade), let him. It will teach him a lesson.” But all too often that lesson is never learned or is learned too late.

To encourage and support academic success in your family, be enthusiastic about helping your child with homework, and if he says he doesnft have any, create homework for him.

Also provide inexpensive incentives to help your boys strive for academic success. Find free and simple ways to show pride in your sonfs academic accomplishments, such as preparing a special meal for him or hanging his work on the refrigerator or near your front door for others to see. Study the tips from this National PTA site to help you get started: www.pta.org/3422.htm.