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Boys learn how to lead at Hub school conference

Victoria Leenders-Cheng
Boys learn how to lead at Hub school conference
Local middle school students work on extracting objects from the center of a circle without touching the ground as mentor Tristan Campbell (second from left) looks on during the Boston Public Schools Citywide Middle School Boys’ Conference, held Saturday, June 6, 2009, at Boston College. (Photo: Victoria Leenders-Cheng)

Author: Victoria Leenders-ChengLocal middle school students work on extracting objects from the center of a circle without touching the ground as mentor Tristan Campbell (second from left) looks on during the Boston Public Schools Citywide Middle School Boys’ Conference, held Saturday, June 6, 2009, at Boston College.

The lyrics may sound tough, even individualistic — “I’m blazing like the sun, ’cause I’m number one / With my skinny jeans, rockin’ with my Air Force Ones” — but they were written in a spirit of collaboration.

The pulsing, up-tempo track, complete with anthemic chorus, features rhymes written collectively by 120 students and put together during the one-day Boston Public Schools (BPS) Citywide Middle School Boys’ Conference, held last Saturday at Boston College.

Now in its seventh year, the conference involves 20 local schools and is intended to expose students to a college campus while encouraging them to think about leadership and decision-making.

Senior Tristan Campbell took part in the conference as a mentor, leading students through problem-solving games in which they had to find ingenious ways to obtain objects placed in the middle of a circle.

“The kids stand on the outside of the circle and the objects in the middle represent their goals, what they want in and out of life,” Campbell explained. “They have to figure out how to reach the objects without touching the ground inside the circle.”

Some young men attempted running leaps to the middle of the circle, while others stretched into plank positions to reach the objects. After several unsuccessful runs, the group put their heads together.

“At first they just ran right into the circle, and there was a lot of confusion until they decided to collaborate,” Campbell said. “They came up with a plan to help each other out.”

Using rubber balls to move the objects and calling out suggestions to each other, the group eventually rescued all the objects from the circle.

The combination of physical activity and creative thinking is designed to get students’ bodies and minds working, according to Jesse Leavitt, a coordinator for the BPS’ Leaders in Education, Action and Hope program, or LEAH.

This theme continued during the student panel that Leavitt helped organize, in which a smaller group of young men heard advice from three high school students about balancing athletics and academics, and how to handle peer pressure.

Campbell, who spoke on the panel, described the demands of juggling Advanced Placement classes with varsity baseball.

“I have a game ending at 6 [p.m.], I come home and I want to eat and sleep. I don’t want to do anything else,” he said. “It takes more than a love for sports, because too much of one thing isn’t good for you. It takes commitment.”

Eighth-grade students Gary Gonzales and Jermaine Maddrey also appreciated the mingling of school and play during the rap lyrics-writing session. With assistance from Cambridge-based educational rap company Rhythm, Rhyme, Results, or Triple R, the young men wrote lyrics riffing on what summer means to them and took turns recording verses of the song.

 “They were talking about ELA [English Language Arts] and I liked that, because we were learning that in school and I could commit to it,” Gonzales said. “And when we started talking about summer, I was picking up stuff that I liked and that my group liked.”

“It was education and it was rap, and it was really fun to combine the two,” Maddrey added, noting that the music inspired both him and Gonzales to add emphatic freestyle lyrics to the chorus they sang as a group.

“The beat, the rhythm just spoke to us,” Gonzales said.

Working behind a table of glittering sound equipment, producer Janos Fulop, known professionally as The Arcitype, helped put the song together and promised the students they would eventually be able to download the full track online.

The goal of the session was to “not only show the 120 boys that signed up for our workshop a really good time, but also to … reinforce the importance and fun of learning academic material based in a popular genre,” said Helen Jackson, Triple R’s director of finance and administration.

This mingling of education and entertainment was a theme throughout the conference, as the students spent the day exploring ideas about and anticipating — some fretting — what lay ahead.

“During the panel, many kids started to worry about being cool or popular,” Campbell said. “I told them … ‘Take your mind off those kinds of things. Your cool will come when it does.’”

Campbell, who is this year’s valedictorian at Urban Science Academy and will enter the Boston University College of Engineering this fall, added that the program offers participants a precious opportunity to think about their plans and goals.

“This is my second time at the conference and I love the setting, the food and how well-structured it is,” he said. “I wish I had it in middle school … There aren’t many times when you get to get a head start on your future.”