Royston Maxwell Lyttle conceived the idea of starting a school to get Black students off to the right start in life when he was a young adult attending a historic Black college in Virginia. There he encountered his first Black teacher.
“He was in a suit. He spoke elegantly, with confidence,” Lyttle recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. The teacher’s name was Leon Bey. “Listening to him was the first time I could picture myself in his shoes. I wanted to be like Dr. Bey.”
Lyttle, 41, is now the principal of Eagle Academy in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The academy has 760 children, who wear a uniform including dress pants, loafers and bow ties. The school, which is 98 percent Black, according to The Washington Post, enrolls children from preschool to third grade.
“It’s being there,” Lyttle explained during The Washington Post interview. “Being visible, knowing their names, learning handshakes, talking about better choices.”
This is a far cry from the schools he attended at a Baltimore Catholic elementary school. Usually one of only a few Black students, and because of this, Lyttle said his skin color was always something that was front and center in the classroom, particularly around Black History Month when teachers would discuss slavery.
“It wasn’t respect,” Lyttle said. “It was including me. The class talked about slavery, and it was always awkward for the teacher and awkward for me.”
These days, Lyttle makes sure the students at his school see successful Black teachers and administrators and learn early to dream big.
“I am always in shirt and tie, trying to get them to ‘visualize yourself,’” Lyttle said. “When you see someone in shirt and bow tie, you see this person in a wonderful job.”
Lyttle also makes sure that the students get one-on-one time with him if they need to talk. He sponsors cafeteria lunches where he eats and listens to them. “Students cannot learn if they are not socially and emotionally there,” Lyttle told The Post.
One of his main objectives is to expose Black students to STEM fields. He said they get plenty of information in life following sports and entertainment celebrities, but wants them to also know about successful doctors and business people.
“Just like me, they have not had exposure to someone to make them want to be a teacher,” Lyttle said. “We want them to see there is more to life than sports and music.”
Do you of any educator or coach that uses new savvy ways to get kids into learning and making better choices in life? Tell us about them, we would love to interview them.