By Sherry Reddick
The XY-Zone started as a small Communities in Schools program at Austin’s Johnston High School in 2000 to empower teenage boys and reduce the drop-out rate. It has now grown to include 10 high schools in Central Texas, and other U.S. cities plan to adopt the successful program model this fall.
The XY-Zone is a male involvement program offering participants job readiness services, support groups, mentors and community service projects. It has long had the endorsement of Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement. He was instantly sold on the program after meeting with the male participants.
“When you meet the young men in the program they shake your hand, look at you in the eye, and they have purpose,” Vincent said. “Their lives might be very different without the support of the XY-Zone.”
Robert Bachicha, Program Coordinator; P.J. Winston, LBJ Coordinator; Pablo Ruiz Diaz, LBJ graduate; Wilton Harris, Reagan Coordinator; Francisco Rivera, Reagan graduate
Francisco Rivera, Reagan High School graduate, participated and now is comfortable leading a construction crew on a home remodeling job and speaking before large audiences. He credits his mentor, Wilton Harris, Reagan program coordinator, with helping him develop these skills.
For six years Harris has successfully recruited male students into the program averaging 40 to 55 participants each year. He says that participation is strictly voluntary, but many students are referred by teachers, probation officers and parents. It took him two years to convince Rivera to join, but he never gave up trying. It was this persistence that led Rivera to sign up and eventually receive recommendations to become a Blue Shirt, the group’s highest level. Participants start out in the 5R’s support group (Respect, Responsibility, Relationships, Role Modeling and Reaching Out) followed by the leadership development group. The program will start its newest level called Ambassador this year.
At the Latino Male Symposium last June held at UT-Austin, Rivera spoke before a room of 250 attendees about his experience, “The staff showed me the type of leader I am,” he said. “Without them I wouldn’t be wearing a suit.”
Harris requires his students to wear a suit, as well as read leading industry magazines like Forbes, and assigns them duties to fulfill at events and meetings such as public speaking and promotion. He also takes his students on field trips, including to college campuses.
“My goal is that all my young men have an opportunity to go to college,” Harris said. “Even for those who say they don’t want to go I tell them it’s still a requirement of this program that you apply. Then when they get an acceptance letter to see their excitement is so wonderful.”
Though the program is opened to all males at a school, its largest demographic populations are Hispanic and African Americans, respectively. Suki Steinhauser, Communities in Schools (CIS) of Central Texas CEO who oversees the XY- Zone, said that many of the males come from disadvantaged backgrounds. She says that Vincent’s university contacts and service as a CIS board member and chair of the XY-Zone Men of Honor Giving Circle, a group of men that each pledge $1,000 of support has been invaluable.
“Dr. Vincent is a tremendous leader himself so it’s only natural he would see the value of a development program for young men who otherwise would not have the support and opportunity to learn about and practice leadership,” said Steinhauser.
Districts that have already received training to offer the program include those in Fort Worth, New Braunfels, San Antonio, the Permian Basin, Waco, and New Orleans. Harris sees the potential for continued growth as more graduates of the program attend college and stay involved.
“I remember Francisco telling me at graduation, ‘One of the few regrets I have is that I didn’t take advantage of the program all four years,’” Harris said. “He’s still around and he’s going to be very involved with us on a volunteer basis. I’m thrilled to death.”