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This story and the images were captured by Humans of New York while visiting The Excellence Boys Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant — a Robin Hood grantee aimed at helping students cultivate the knowledge, skills, and character necessary to succeed academically, embrace responsibility, and become honorable citizens and courageous leaders.

“I want to be a positive male influence in their lives. We’re big on building foundations. I tell them: ‘There’s not going to be a switch that flips once you become an adult, and suddenly you start acting right. Every decision you make matters. Because once you’re older, you’re going to revert back to the same behavior you have right now. If you have a foundation of rudeness, dishonesty, and not caring, that’s what you’ll fall back on when you’re faced with a challenge. So we need to build a foundation of character.”

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“My students like pro wrestling, so I try to keep up with it so I can talk to them. And if there’s a new video game that I hear them talking about, I’ll go pick it up. The big one now is NBA 2k. I’ve created a player profile and everything. My player is 7’4.” He’s a monster. But anyway, I just want to participate in the conversations they enjoy, because I know there are going to be times when there needs to be a tough conversation. And I want them to know that I cared about them before there was a problem.”

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“The school was founded to find out why boys were having so much trouble in school. We wanted to know where the gaps are. One thing we found is that boys are naturally competitive, so we give them plenty of opportunities to compete. For the youngest kids, we’ve created a storyline where Shredder has kidnapped all the Ninja Turtles, and he’s going to shrink them and eat them in his soup. We call the students Knowledge Ninjas, and the only way for them to save the turtles is to win points. This week they get points for going to tutoring. Next week they get points for taking notes. At the end of every week, when they get enough points, a teacher comes out dressed as a turtle and the kids celebrate like they won the lottery.”

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“I want to be a wildlife biologist. I really, really, really like animals. I like that lizards have really long tongues, and cheetahs can run really fast, and armadillos have hard shells. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to not be a human. Like what would it be like to fly? It would also be interesting to not have to go shopping for food, or worry about money. And you could go anywhere you want as long as there weren’t predators nearby. One time my dad brought me some quills from an African Crested Porcupine, and I accidentally broke one of them, and I saw that even though it was hard on the outside, it was soft and spongy on the inside. And it’s been my favorite animal ever since.”

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“I also want to be a writer. I’m actually working on a book right now. It’s a series. When you’re writing a book, you’ve really got to open your imagination. Your book can’t just be about a mean person who eats a banana and learns a lesson, because that’s boring. There needs to be a lot of different parts. There needs to be a protagonist, an antagonist, and some people that you’re not really sure about because that adds mystery. And you can take inspiration from other writers, but don’t plagiarize. My mom and dad are teachers, and they fail anyone who plagiarizes.”

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“I tell my class that you can always spot a second grader by how he carries himself. This isn’t first grade anymore. When we have a problem, we aren’t just going to cry about it. We’re going to figure out what we did wrong and how we’re going to fix it. And when we go out in the hallway, we are going to stay controlled, follow directions, and have great posture. Because we want people to know it’s Ms. Washington’s class the moment they see us.”

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