Bowling Green Junior High School Principal Robert Lightning boarded a bright purple school bus Friday with a mission.

With the school gearing up to launch its new Black Male Scholars program this school year, Lightning wanted to make the inaugural class feel welcome by delivering to each one a custom yard sign that proudly proclaims a “Black Male Scholar Lives Here!”

“We just want our young men to take pride and the family to take pride,” Lightning told the Daily News before setting off that afternoon.

Bowling Junior High School’s Black Male Scholars program – which will center on a curriculum and content taught through the lens of African American history and culture – will launch with at least 19 students, Lightning said.

This group of sixth grade students, selected through an application and interview process, will also get help with college and career prep, mentorship and off-site visits in the community.

It’s an effort to address academic achievement gaps between White and Black students – with the school district’s assessment data showing that Black students have performed significantly behind their White peers and all students in the aggregate.

For example, data from the formative iReady reading assessment administered in the fall of 2020 showed that Black students performed about 43 percentage points behind their White classmates. A similar trend played out on the iReady math assessment: Black students scored roughly 32 percentage points behind White students.

“We know we have to make a change,” Lightning said during an information session for parents at Bowling Green Junior High School in April.

Since then, the program drew about 30 applicants, Lightning said.

To be selected, rising sixth grade students had to secure a recommendation from someone who isn’t a family member and undergo an interview before a selection committee.

Gambia Flemister was recently hired to coordinate the program and previously taught Spanish at Bowling Green High School for 12 years. After leaving the district to teach at a charter school in Nashville for a few years, Flemister said she was inspired to return after Lightning pitched the program to her at a local barbershop.

Flemister was drawn to the initiative because it sounded like something she’s wanted to do for her entire life: create a school for kids who look like her. That, and the fact that students will be “taught through an African American lens,” with American African history and culture woven into every subject area.

“A lot of students have talked about the brotherhood” aspect of the Black Male Scholars program, she said.

Going into the program, Flemister said she wants students to buy into it and to know they will get out of the program what they put in. She cited the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which is sometimes translated as “I am because we are.”

“Society puts us in a box,” Flemister said. “I want them to know they belong anywhere and everywhere their feet touch.”

With school slated to start back Aug. 5 for the district, the Black Male Scholars program is gearing up in the coming weeks. The inaugural class has an upcoming visit to Lost River Cave to help build fellowship.

“This will be the first time they’re coming together as an entire group of young men,” Lightning said.

The Black Male Scholars will also depart on a trip to Nashville’s Frist Art Museum, and the program will hold a special induction ceremony later this month.

The inaugural class of Black Male Scholars includes the following sixth grade students: Jayden Anderson; Gatsimbu Baraka; Louis Bishop; Anordi Bizmana; Lelan Carpenter; Michael Crowe, III; Julian Drew; Corbin Flye; Marlon Greene, V; Ahzerion Herndon; Pascal Itongwa; Joseph Kianga; Kingston Marks; Abednego Matendo; Jacques Ngoy; Abraham Shemelia; Jaylin White; Ja’Caurie Woodard and LDevaun Yates.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.