BRADENTON – At Visible Men Academy, Co-Founder Neil Phillips is a man with a mission.
“That is to elevate boys from low-income-family backgrounds through outstanding academic character and social development in a nurturing school environment,” Phillips said.
Phillips calls the K-5 charter school a place that celebrates who the young boys are.
“It’s a school environment that caused them to feel a really strong sense of their own self worth,” Phillips said. “We call our students, ‘suns.'”
The school is built on five core values, encouraging its suns to shine bright.
“’S’ is selflessness, ‘H’ honesty, ‘I’ integrity, ‘N’ niceness and ‘E’ excellence,” Phillips said.
Phillips helped found the school five years ago to disrupt, even reverse, what he calls a humanitarian crisis.
“I know what these boys can give, and the statistics were showing that too many of ’em weren’t performing at the level we know they’re capable of,” Phillips said.
Just last month ten fifth graders were eligible to graduate.
“There were a lot of tears, tears of joy,” Phillips said.
He says staff members like art teacher Clifford McDonald teach the boys how to enjoy going to school.
“..take kids from an environment where they don’t get to experience as many opportunities as a lot of kids do at other schools,” McDonald said.
The students, or suns, all qualify for free lunch, but the VMA staff wants the boys from low-income families to know they can meet even the highest standards.
“Knowing that they’re gonna leave us and go on to contribute to school communities far beyond ours, but with a really, really strong foundation for their future, it’s really heartening and really inspiring,” Phillips said.
“It’s a great experience,” McDonald said, “something I’m appreciative to be part of.”
The school currently has 100 students and not a lot of space.
Phillips says they’re hoping to eventually move to a bigger facility, allowing more ‘suns’ to enroll.