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In Austin's All-Boys Middle School, Young Men Find, and Become, Role Models

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News
Bryce Gable works out at track practice after a school day at Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy, an all-boys middle school.

Raising children isn’t easy, especially if you’re doing it on your own.

At Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, the new all-boys school in East Austin, many of the students are being raised by single moms or grandmas. Principal Sterlin McGruder recognizes that.

"I feel it's important [that] I’m in the cafeteria, I'm in the hallway, I'm in the classrooms, so that they can have a conversation with me," McGruder says. "They don’t have the male role model at home. They need that male role model who they can talk to. You can tell they're yearning."

Tihira House is raising three boys. Cam'ron Thomas, 12, is finishing sixth grade at Garcia. Bryce Gable, 14, is about to graduate eighth grade there. Six-year-old Jahmir House just graduated kindergarten. House says she's done whatever she needs to make ends meet — but she can't be a father. That's one reason she enrolled her children in the all-boys school. 

Looking toward the future

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News
Two of Tihira House's boys, Bryce and Cam'ron, attend Gus Garcia Young Men's Leadership Academy. Six-year-old Jahmir hopes to attend when he's older.

After a year at Gus Garcia, she's seen her two oldest sons, Bryce and Cam'ron, grow in different ways. Bryce, who'll start high school in the fall, is thinking seriously about his future.

“He had a leadership qualities before, but here he was able to display them and follow the lead of other successful black men," House says. "[He] get[s] more of a vision in his mind of what his future can be like, besides me just telling him. He can actually see it here.”

House says even his musical tastes have matured.

"He still likes rap, but he likes real rap, reality rap. Kendrick Lamar, Tupac, Zero," she says. Bryce says he hears a bit of his life in that music.

"They talk about what’s really going on, how they were able to get out of this type of, this type of life," Bryce says. "It’s people who have the same type of life situations as me, came from the same type of neighborhood as me, and now they're making millions. They've made it big, but they still care about what's really going on."

After barely passing seventh grade, Bryce says he ended eighth grade with almost all A's and B's.

Cam'ron has also seen progress, but in a different way. This year, Cam'ron was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia after other schools were unable to diagnose him. He's been able to get the help he needs, while also learning how to play the tenor drum in the school's drumline. 

'A single parent since November 2002'

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News
Tahira House has three boys, and she's been raising her kids on her own since 2002.

According to a 2011 College Board report, more than half of African American men are raised by single women. Bryce, Cam’ron and Jahmir all have different fathers, none of whom are around.

"I've been a single parent since November of 2002," House says.

Bryce chooses to have limited contact with his father. Cam’ron’s father has been in prison most of his life. Cam’ron says he kind of misses his dad, "and kind of not. 'Cause my brothers, they don’t have their dads either. So, we’re basically equal."

House doesn’t have much contact with her youngest son’s father. The male role models in her life — her brother-in-law and her father — don’t live nearby. The staff at Garcia have been able to provide that support. At Garcia, more than half the teachers are male, and nearly one-third are African American. And some of the teachers even grew up in the neighborhood.

“They can talk to the kids about their own story and their struggle to get to where they’re at," House says. "So many successful men — and women — that are college-minded and not afraid to talk about it. I mean, it’s on each and every classroom door what university they went to.”

Another College Board report found that in 2008, nearly half of 15 to 24-year-old men of color who graduate from high school end up in prison, unemployed or dead.

House is determined to make sure her sons don’t fit that statistic.

“Hopefully, they wont have to go through the same things I went through to learn the same lesson — if they just listen to me," House says. "Because I’m constantly talking to them."

Bryce says his mom is a role model, too.

“Having just my mom around, and her having three kids [with] no dad in the house, she’s shown me what it’s really like to be strong and really, really care about people," Bryce says.

This summer, as she prepares Cam'ron for seventh grade and Bryce for high school, House hopes her youngest son gets the same opportunity.

“I’m hoping that the school will stay like this and stay on an upward path and not go back down to what I hear Garcia was before, so it’ll be here for when the baby is ready to come," House says.

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