Public education success story for inner-city kids

How all-boys Eagle Academy is changing lives ... 05:59

The Eagle Academy for Young Men is a system of six schools, open to grades six through 12, created in 2004 by the group One Hundred Black Men of America. The schools are strategically placed in high-crime areas in all five boroughs of New York City, and in Newark, New Jersey, and could very well be saving lives, reports CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers.

At the Bronx school, every student's day begins with breakfast and a town hall meeting where students get to discuss with administrators school announcements and any issues they are having -- one of many things that sets Eagle apart from other public schools.

Ja' Paris Sheridan is a 17-year-old senior at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx.

At his senior convocation, he was chosen to speak not as class president, not as a valedictorian but as a young man who's conquered many of the struggles facing the boys in his school.

"The Eagle Academy for Young Men was created to make a difference in our black and Latino communities, especially for young men like me," Sheridan said in his speech. "I was headed down the same vicious cycle that so many of today's urban youth get caught up in, a path that only has two potential outcomes; either prison or death."

Sheridan, the oldest of six, lives in a violent and crime-ridden neighborhood in the North Bronx. Like 67 percent of black children in America, he has grown up in a single-parent home.

"Before I came to Eagle Academy it were constant fights, getting arrested," Sheridan said. "I was arrested four to five times."

The fact that both his parents were incarcerated on drug charges when he was only 9 years old only made life more difficult.

"He took it the hardest. I had many of nights that I cried, blaming myself," his mother Mercedez Smith said.

She admitted it hasn't been easy for him.

"We are not that far from the projects, where there is always shoot-outs, even on this block, the back block, a lot of fights, a lot of gangs," she said.

When his mother learned about a public school in the neighborhood geared specifically to boys of color, she urged her son to apply.

"I feel like that was the best choice me and my son we could of ever made," she said.

Out of thousands that applied, Sheridan was one of the lucky 100 to be accepted in his class. But it didn't stop local gangs trying to recruit him.

"He was always in a fight, every day, even outside of the school, they would go to his school," Smith said.

Sheridan said the biggest turning point in his life came when a teacher at the school went the extra mile to help him

"I said, 'Wow. What is going on with this student? Where at one end he wants to do well and he wants to learn, but at the other he has such a short fuse,'" his ninth grade teacher Ms. Macklin said. "One day in my class he said to me, he feels like he wants to commit suicide, and I talked to him about why he wanted to commit suicide. He said that he was going to die anyways, he was going to be killed on the streets."

From that day on Macklin has been Sherican's advocate, providing counseling and support.

"Ms. Macklin, I have told you things in the past, but I don't think I have ever told you this: You have changed my life," the teenager said in his convocation speech.

And that, according to David Banks, the president and CEO of the schools' foundation, is the point of the Eagle Academy.

"We help young men to understand what it takes to get the lights to go on, for them to believe in themselves," Banks said.

And the way they do that is by providing the structure and discipline many of these boys have never had.

Students must wear uniforms, each boy gets paired with a mentor from the community, school days are longer to avoid idle time on the streets, and the kicker:

"No girls, and it makes a huge difference," Banks said. "I think to be able to come to a place where they don't have to worry about competing for girls, or getting dressed up for girls, they can be very focused on their school work. Many of our young men, other schools would shy away from. But we admit all of these young men and we say we will put all of them in there together and will get everybody to the finish line."

Eagle Academy has brought an astounding number of students across the finish line. The average number of black and Latino boys to graduate high school in New York City is 50 percent. At Eagle Academy, it's 78 percent, with 100 accepted into colleges.

"People don't see the greatness that lies within boys of color. They are boys; they are kids, just like any other kid in America. And with the right direction they can soar," Macklin said.

In his speech, Sheridan discussed watching convocations from the sidelines as a younger student.

"Now I am here. I made it," he said.

"That school will be forever in my memory, in my heart, and (I'm) grateful to them as well because they didn't give up on him," Smith said.

Instead they gave him and his family an alternative to life on the streets. Sheridan will be the first in his family to attend college.