Wednesday, January 8, 1997
Academy gives troubled kids
shot at success

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lionel Brown won't pat himself on the back. It goes against his grain.

So, allow me.

His baby, Project Succeed Academy, is a success.

Attendance is nearly perfect, 93.4 percent for the school year's first quarter. That's tremendous for a school whose 300 students - from kindergarten through the eighth grade - have been labeled Cincinnati Public School's problem children.

Another plus for the deputy school superintendent who founded and runs the academy is found in the latest discipline statistics for the 1996-97 school year.

The figures, set for release in two weeks, give Lionel Brown systemwide bragging rights. Suspensions, he says, are down 33 percent from last year when there was no Project Succeed. Expulsions for the same period are down 20 percent.

''Discipline problems have dropped,'' he admits. ''We've isolated the students who were spreading trouble in other schools. We're getting at the root of their deep-seated problems. Everyone in this school deserves a gold medal for what they've accomplished. But ... ''

His voice trails off. Early-morning sunlight streams down his back as he sits at his desk in the school, which hugs the flood plain between Eastern Avenue and the Ohio River.

The traffic outside rumbles down the street. It's enough to rattle his office windows. But not Lionel Brown's resolve.

''It would be very easy for me to say everything is going extremely well,'' he says. ''But I strive for perfection. And, there is still so much to do.''

He mentions the school's 300-student waiting list and the extensive help each child needs.

He tells of the pain he feels ''when I see one of the babies in kindergarten get so upset they lose touch with reality. We knew the big kids would do this. But we weren't prepared for the shock of seeing a little one do it.''

The academy deals with this behavior by restraining the child. An adult wraps two strong arms around him and holds on. It's called a hug.

''That helps,'' Lionel Brown says. ''But we need to do more.''

That's why, to him, Project Succeed's mission is not accomplished. It's something his 88-year-old grandmother would take one look at and say the words he was raised on and continues to be inspired by:

''Don't bring me no half-done job.''

Feeling proud

In the schoolyard, teacher George Wilson shivers in the cold as he welcomes students back from Christmas break.

''It's a new year,'' he tells them. ''Time for a new attitude.''

Since September, he has seen several major attitude adjustments.

''Eight kids went from horrible to good. So, I bought them small, scale-model cars for Christmas. These kids were amazed anyone would pay any attention to them. Look! There's one now. Hey, Chicago Bulls jacket!''

Charles Pride, 11, turns around. He remembers with wonder the feeling that came over him when he got that car: ''I was proud of myself for doing good.''

Magic changes

Four fifth-graders tumble across floor mats in the school's third-floor gym.

Outside the gym's windows, the sun's beams turn the river silver.

But no one is watching the river.

The four students are intent on their exercises.

Eugene Fields, their martial arts teacher, watches over them.

Out of earshot, he explains how these well-behaved students were once on the verge of expulsion. They were getting into fights and not doing their homework. But they were coming to his class.

So, he made a deal: Stop fighting. Do your homework first. Then, you can come up to the gym to practice the ancient martial art of Bushido.

Taking a break, the fifth-graders walk over to a plastic, water-filled barrel. It's home to a papyrus plant and a handful of goldfish.

The students stand in silence over the barrel. They gaze at the fish and tenderly touch the green shoots of papyrus.

''It calms them down,'' Eugene Fields notes. ''It's kinda magical.''

Just like Project Succeed.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.