In 17 Oakland public schools, a district-run program dedicated solely to the nurturing and development of black boys is seeing results four years into its operation. It’s called the Manhood Development Program, and black boys enrolled in its classes and mentoring initiatives have improved their grades and reading capacity, according to a new report (PDF) released today by the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement.

But that’s not all. The program, which was conceived as an initiative to decrease school suspensions and increase graduation rates for black boys in 2010, is dedicated to identity development and emotional nurturing of youth.

Half the students enrolled in the MDP report that by the ninth grade, they’ve seen someone get shot, according to the report, called “The Black Sonrise.” Meanwhile, only 28 percent of California’s black boys scored “proficient” or higher on a state English exam. While black boys are just 17 percent of Oakland’s public school enrollment, they’re 75 percent of students who get arrested while at school. The dynamics are not unrelated, the district determined.

In order to address what the Office of African American Male Achievement calls the “epidemic failure” of black boys, the MDP put together classes which are currently offered in 17 district schools to 450 students. The classes, which are held every five days a week during the school day, bring together a mix of “high-achieving,” “average,” and “under-achieving” students for a program “predicated on evidence-based community-defined best practices and insights.” The classes allow black boys learn from their peers and black men to support each other in an academic environment that’s all too often hostile to them and offer curriculum by and about other African-Americans.

“They’ve seen victimization everywhere they look – at the hands of police or sometimes at the hands of schools,” Vajra Watson, director of research and policy for equity at UC Davis and author of the report, told the UC Davis News Service. “And [they’ve] changed that into empowerment to know where they come from, who they are and importantly where they’re going.”

Read the report in full (PDF).