Award Winner: Dwight Ho-Sang, Principal
Winner Cohort: 2013
Project Title: Gentlemen of Distinction
Student Reach as of 2018: 260 and counting
From local fathers to the Morehouse football team, male role models pour into KIPP WAYS to help with Principal Dwight Ho-Sang’s and Arthur Washington’s Gentlemen of Distinction program.
In 2006, Ho-Sang and Washington noticed a disparity among their students; some boys struggled behaviorally and academically more than others but had the same amount of potential. “They needed an extra level of support,” says Ho-Sang. Instead of traditional methods of punishing students that are off task, Ho-Sang took another route: mentoring. With a goal of pouring into the students that needed the most attention, Ho-Sang and the school’s band teacher, Mr. Washington, began the afterschool program titled Gentlemen of Distinction.
Gentlemen of Distinction is a whole school effort, starting with teacher nomination for this additional opportunity. Teachers are asked to select students with low academic performance and/or high detentions and suspensions from each middle school grade. Because members enter and exit at different times, twenty to forty boys make up Gentlemen of Distinction each year. The program focuses on character development and accountability and includes shared reading and community service projects. More importantly, the weekly afternoon meetings in Mr. Washington’s band room allow each member to openly discuss what is on their hearts and minds with their school family. Ho Sang shares:
“Through this brotherhood, we ultimately want our young men to become leaders, independent thinkers, and we want them to be willing to hold themselves and one another accountable for their academic and character development. “
Mentors like Washington and Ho-Sang give these boys encouragement to be better than the stereotypes laid out for them.
In 2013, Ho-Sang applied for a grant from The Teach On Project (TOP) to expand aspects of Gentlemen of Distinction. Limited funding had hurt the programs ability provided resources to the student participants. With the TOP project stipend, Ho-Sang purchased resources to create a comprehensive curriculum for the young men, and much needed equipment for the end of the year camping trip to Stone Mountain. During the end of year retreat, student members are able to revisit the goals they set for the year, and assess the progress made throughout their experience with Gentlemen of Distinction. Because Ho Sang invested in reusable equipment, the culmination camping trip is set to make a difference for the students of KIPP Ways for years to come.
One student embodied the potential of the program in Ho-Sang’s eyes. Ahmad began at KIPP WAYS in the fifth grade and continued all the way until eighth grade. Ho-Sang reflects that Ahmad was not traditionally considered a bad kid; however, he struggled to control his emotions, especially anger. It would take longer for him to calm down from his emotions when compared to other kids. Ho-Sang felt he needed that “extra level of support” too. The mentorship, guidance and experiences provided by Gentlemen of Distinction helped Ahmad transition from an overly emotional student to a leader in and out of the classroom. Currently, Ahmad attends Tennessee State University and continues to come back to KIPP WAYS to inspire younger boys who were just like him.
More than a decade later, Gentlemen of Distinction continues to support and encourage young boys to not only do what is right for them, but to also be leaders and role models for others. Over time, Ho-Sang has been able to bring in community partners and leaders, parent volunteers and KIPP alumni to mentor and support the young men in Gentlemen of Distinction. Going forward, Ho-Sang and Washington hope to connect the middle and high school level programs to allow for ongoing support and collaboration during the most crucial decision making years in a young man’s life. It is safe to say that Gentlemen of Distinction will be around as long as these boys need them.