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Class Act

Star Tribune writers tracking education issues

Mpls. Patrick Henry High event aims to empower black men

Patrick Henry High School's annual 100 Black Men strong event kicked off Friday at the school as students circled up at tables with more than 100 black professionals to talk about careers, academics and life.

The event theme, "How to survive as a black man in America," aimed to "empower, engage, encourage and equip students with the tools to thrive," according to a release from the school district. 

Featured speaker U.S. Department of Educarion General Counsel and Deputy Secretary James Cole, Jr., was slated to speak at the event about his time working for President Obama's administration and being his family's first member to gain a college degree. 

Patrick Henry Principal Yusuf Abdullah said the annual event has been running for a few years, and gives students a chance to see black men in a variety of professional fields.

Kids need to look at more of that, he said.

"They have to see themselves in those people," he said. 

St. Paul students urge flexibility on graduation attire

A St. Paul student group says students should have the freedom to decorate graduation caps and gowns in ways that celebrate their ethnicity.

The recommendation by the SPPS Student Engagement and Advancement Board was presented to the school board this week and could be considered in time for commencement exercises this year.

In pushing for the change, Ruby Sutton and Skyler Kuczaboski of the student engagement group cited concerns over a Harding High student being barred from wearing a family stole reflecting her Asian heritage.

District policy currently prohibits graduating students from carrying items or altering their caps and gowns without the superintendent's approval. Last spring, students at Washburn High in Minneapolis received guidelines for their commencement exercise stating: "Do not alter and/or decorate the caps and gowns -- You will NOT be allowed to participate in the ceremony."

The student engagement board takes its proposal a few steps further by also urging the district to avoid putting "strict limits" on how students choose to express their cultural identities, and by suggesting it make a policy change for 2018 saying that the district "encourages" students to express "ethnic traditions at graduation through wearing of visual representations of their culture."

Mary Vanderwert, one of three board members who will take a closer look at the proposed policy changes, said she believed some boundaries would have to be in place. Colleague John Brodrick, citing instances in which students put inappropriate messages atop their caps, and the desire for "dignified and well-run" events, said he wants feedback from class advisors and others.

Board Member Chue Vue said the changes could be positive for the diverse district.

"I'm excited to be able to work on this policy," he said.