Darin Earley remembers teaching in Los Angeles public schools, particularly the so-called high priority campuses, at a point when educators had the time to get to know students as well as counsel, mentor and even teach youngsters social skills.

But the advent of “testing” kicked that concept right out the door, and frustrated the veteran educator.

“I was assistant principal at Henry Clay, and I was responsible for discipline. As I would go into conferences with families and students, I found it always came back to social skills. And schools were no longer making that connection. Kids were not directly connecting their academic pursuits to how they felt socially, emotionally and with their identity.”

Then Earley began working in cultural diversity training within the LAUSD, and realized that students were having intimate conversations about issues–where they were as people, what they saw happening in their community, how they felt about themselves and their families.

“Those third level conversations that got behind the services and looked at the issues. That’s when I realized that kids still had the burning interests, but nobody was showing them how to use the fire to impact their lives; their community,” explained Earley, who took a friend’s advice, gained his wife’s blessing and fashioned the work he was doing in a character education program called Steps to Greatness.

Earley began to work that program full time after quitting the LAUSD in 2006.

In Steps to Greatness, Earley said he uses multi-media, poetry and other methods in classrooms for 10 to 15 weeks and works with students around issues like identity, self awareness, goal setting, academic achievement, building healthy relationships, problem solving, conflict resolutions and civic responsibility.

As he was conducting Steps to Greatness, Earley said he discovered another need.

“I was working with Upward Bound . . . and one day they wanted to do an all-woman workshop, and they came to me and said ‘Darin come in and do something with the guys.’”

Taking elements he had already been using in Steps to Greatness, Earley created Real Men Do Real things

“We talked about specific things–what are traits of a man. We looked at the John Henry cartoon, and then from there we had a dialogue and interaction,” Earley said.

Then he put the program on the shelf for a while and continued with Steps to Greatness until a principal at Jefferson High School began talking to him about the large achievement gap of the African American males at the school.”

He asked Earley to help out, so the veteran educator refined Real Men Do Real Things further, adding elements such as how to tie a tie. He also included so called “barber shop conversations” where older men talk about realities.

From Jefferson, a friend who was the football coach at Westchester High School asked him to bring the program to his team members. Earley did so.

Interest in his program has begun to slowly grow, and since it was launched, Earley said he has offered the training at Fremont High School; Madison Middle School (to Armenians and Latinos); Landmark School in Moreno Valley and Animo South Los Angeles.

There are other schools interested in the program and there are places like the juvenile camps that Earley wants to take his program.

The goal behind Real Men Do Real Things is simple, Earley said. “When kids begin to own their lives and think in terms of the fact that their life is not what is given to them, but more so what they make from what they have been given; that they are not victims–(I find) if kids are passionate about themselves and their live, then they can produce success on tests.”