We had no idea what to expect when we received the invitation to participate in the Boston Plan for Excellence’s “Principal for a Day” event last month. The fact that the Boston Bar Association does two of its signature public service projects – the BBA Summer Jobs Program and the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program – in partnership with the Boston Public Schools was for us enough of a reason to want to spend time inside one of the city’s high schools.
Our morning at Charlestown High School was an eye-opening experience. We got the distinct impression that the teachers and administrators are working hard. Despite inadequate funding, they are committed to changing the lives of their students. We also saw a student body with a thirst for knowledge and an eagerness to learn.
A word about the demographics of this particular school, charged with educating 954 students in grades 9-12. . . More than one third of the kids are “Limited English Proficient.” 8% receive special ed services part of each day and 17% have moderate-to-severe disabilities requiring separate special ed classes.
Some of the students have been in this country fewer than five years. The racial and ethnic background stats tell us that the study body is 31% Hispanic, 42% Black, 6% White, 20% Asian, and 1% other. 46% of them qualify for free or reduced-price school meals!
Like all of Boston’s public high schools, Charlestown High draws students from throughout the city. We learned that the vast majority of the students live outside Charlestown and commute anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour on public transit.
The school has formal English as a second language classes. Still, it struck us how challenging it must be for kids whose mother tongue is Spanish or Chinese to first master English, and then learn their academic subjects in English. At the same time, the school celebrates the rich cultural, racial, and ethnic identity of its student body, and offers Arabic as an elective.
Charlestown High will not give up on any student. Not only is the school teaching in a conventional way, but also in an unconventional way to students facing a multitude of language or other challenges. We were impressed that the school has a special program tailored to the needs of older students who are determined to resume their education and earn a high school diploma.
Admittedly, we found the metal detectors and the school security guards in the hallways somewhat disconcerting. At the same time, we are well aware that security precautions have been amped up the world over.
In the process of being Principal for the Day, this has reinforced in our mind the importance of reaching out to children, our most important asset going forward. We came away more committed than ever to the BBA’s Summer Jobs Program and M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program. Education is critically important, and we are proud to offer programs like these that contribute to the development of Boston Public School students.