All-boys charter school set to open in August in Bradenton

newsintern@bradenton.comJuly 12, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The Visible Men Academy welcomes young men in Manatee/Sarasota to no longer feel "invisible."

Founder and President Neil Phillip said he wanted to create success stories of young African-American men by giving them exceptional education opportunities. After reading the novel "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, Phillips said he was inspired to give every young boy who ever felt "invisible" a chance to be "a visible man."

With the help of his wife, co-founder Shannon Rohrer-Phillips, Visible Men Academy will open Aug. 19.

"Neil wanted to bring visibility to men of color who are doing great things," Rohrer-Phillips said while speaking Thursday to nonprofit organization members at the Arts and Eats Restaurant in the Village of the Arts.

"This idea has birthed from his experience as a man of color."

The school promotes integrity and achievement, and idealizes the strength of masculinity.

"When it comes to low-income minority families in the county, we found out that boys fall off education more than girls do, so that's one of the inspirations behind making the school all boys," Rohrer-Phillips said.

The new public charter school, 1003 63rd Ave. E., started out focused on African-American boys but now welcomes male students of all races and cultures.

"We want to celebrate minority success," Rohrer-Phillips said. "We are not excluding other races. We have Hispanic, African-American, Cuban and Caucasian students."

Students for the 2013-14 school year will be kindergartners through second-graders. Beginning in January, applications will be accepted for third, fourth, and possibly fifth grades.

"For now we are only recruiting K-second-graders but we eventually want to expand the school to go as far as eighth grade," Rohrer-Phillips said.

The 4-acre school building near Bradenton's Pride Park has a 200-student capacity. Rohrer-Phillips hopes to have up to 175 students in the upcoming year.

The public charter school emphasizes character building and development of young men. Students are encouraged to build strong intellectual and behavioral foundations that will lead to life-long success.

"The Visible Men Academy has a mission to have highly engaging and enriching class settings," Rohrer Phillips said.

The school day goes from 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. with after-school enrichment offered until 5:30 p.m. Students are required to attend school one Saturday per month and have three more weeks of classroom instruction compared with traditional schools.

To compensate for the long hours, extended recess time, sports and art will be incorporated in the school day.

"It's all about finding that balance," Rohrer-Phillips said.

Minority boys from lower-income families often focus too much on sports and exclude academics, he said. Visible Men Academy wants to provide the happy-medium between school and sports, he said.

"The powers of physical and intellectual need to come together -- but academics need to come first," Rohrer-Phillips said.

The school's vigorous academic curriculum meant finding the right teachers was not easy, according to Rohrer-Phillips.

"We are doing a lot of recruitment for teachers," Rohrer-Phillips said.

After reviewing 600 applications, the school hired in-state and out-of-state teachers.

"Every Child Inc has donated backpacks and student school supplies to all enrolled students of Visible Men Academy," said Cynthia Cavallaro Day, school director of development and business relations.

Nutritious breakfast, lunch and snacks are also included. Transportation is also available at no cost.

To enroll or find out more information about The Visible Men Academy, visit vmacademy.org or call 941-331-4311.

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