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Dorchester Collegiate Academy - The Vision

Posted: March 13, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

January 24, 2011 was the official start of the third term of the Dorchester Collegiate Academy for the 2010-2011 academic year.  This marks the second year of existence for this Upham's Corner charter school.  Dorchester Collegiate Academy

The beginning of Q3 marks a special time for the kids.  They give presentations to their classmates, school staff and parents in attendance.  It's a time when they can proudly express themselves, or explore their comfort zone in the center of attention or experience the accolades of their peers.

In 2009 the school had only fourth-graders. In September 2010, Dorchester Collegiate "sprouted wings" and grew a fifth grade.  Headmaster Bob Flynn is "incredibly excited" about the future of the school. “Each year is more fun than the last.  The students are fantastic and watching them develop is incredibly rewarding.
Bob Flynn, Headmaster, and Kamilah Cato, Wellness Director, have a common background working with the Suffolk County Sheriff Department's re-entry program, administered by Bunker Hill Community College.  They got to know the people coming out of the Suffolk County House of corrections - their motivations, their academic level and, over time, the environment to which they returned.  

A full 80% of this prison population was strongly educable, some with advanced skills.  Yet their lives had gone astray and had been set back years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifetime earning power.

What was the problem?

The Boston Foundation identified three factors that were determined to be causative in derailing students from their learning path even as early as the fourth grade:
  • poor academic performance on a consistent basis
  • low attendance rate or frequent tardiness
  • ongoing behavioral issues
While academic performance is a factor, it is the other two "wellness" issues that hold the upper hand.  In other words students caught up in frequent tardiness or absences or behavioral problems were likely to "fail" academically, or fail to complete high school or fail to integrate properly into adult society. 

With one or both "wellness" issues present, even if the child/youth is placed in a classroom with an outstanding teacher, s/he will not have the ability to listen or learn.  The teacher's words will result in lost effort.
Bob and Kamilah both wanted to make a difference in the world.  They began talking about the possibility of starting a charter school that would focus on youth at risk at an age early enough to ensure the student could fully participate in the learning process.

Through their long discussions Bob focused on designing a charter school that would guarantee graduating students the ability to complete a college curriculum.  Kamilah, with her background in psychology and vocational rehabilitation, insisted on attention to wellness issues.  They also realized that immersing the school in a support system was also important.

The net result was a charter school, Dorchester Collegiate Academy (DCA), founded to deliver a student whose psycho-social-emotional skills were developed as part of the tool bag that allowed the student to pay proper attention to, and participate in the academic life of the school.  DCA's three pillars are:
  • Parent engagement
  • Social/emotional wellness
  • Academic rigor
Their parent outreach coordinator is Danielle Drummon and the school is also in collaboaration with Children's Hospital.  This is a clear demonstration of their commitment to providing a comprehensive approach to nurturing the social and emotional development of their students.

Don't get the wrong impression.  The day is not spent in meditation, counseling, group therapy and encounter sessions.  Quite the opposite.  The purpose of the school is school.  The support system of the school pays attention to issues clouding a student's life and preventing that student from accomplishing his/her academic responsibilities.
Kamilah tells the story of a youth (call him Charles) whose behavior was completely out of control.  He would throw pencils across the room, make rude comments, fail entirely in his ability to concentrate and as a result learn nothing.  The student's behavior was consistent and pervasive and needed attending to.

Dorchester Collegiate has an advisor system whereby groups of 6 to 10 students are each assigned an advisor who advocates for that student's well being both at the school, individually and in group settings, and at home.  At the same time the teachers are advised to provide feedback on students when issues are identified.  The advisor, the teachers and staff had tried working with Charles in the normal way as had the students who were being impacted by Charles' behavior.

The Wellness Director steps in when this type of first level effort fails.  They all met and discussed how to approach Charles, always with the goal of accomplishing academic integration and performance.  "What," she asked, "could we establish as goals in our efforts to help Charles?" 

A typical answer might look like this:  Focus on Charles' behavior and get Charles to:
  •   stop throwing pencils
  •   stop making rude remarks
  •   stop distracting the class
because if you succeed, then he would be able to concentrate on his learning, right?

Often times the type of behavior you see in a boy like Charles stems from something as simple as a "missing" academic skill, a tool that failed to land in his bag of tricks to deal with the learning environment.  "Acting out" is Charles' way of distracting himself from his own insecurity.

In coordination with Charles, his teachers and his parents, Mrs. Cato implemented an incentive system. Every time Charles completed a piece of work in class (something that had not occurred since the start of school), he received an award. Within a few weeks the results were in! Charles was completing his classwork and his inappropriate behaviors were reduced. Each time Charles reached his daily or weekly goal, staff and teachers made it a point to publicly praise and reinforce his new behaviors.

As a note, Charles' Q3 presentation was excellent.  
Headmaster Bob Flynn says that he has a strong vision for the Dorchester Collegiate Academy. 

"I see that as a result of our focus on the social, emotional and educational components, our students will become leaders.  One of the first ways they will do this is to become mentors for the younger students.  Extending themselves to the students who need help is a step forward in their maturation and increases their understanding of who they can become.  Mentoring also serves to reinforce their long-term relationship with the community as a whole."

Dorchester Collegiate Academy
Dorchester Collegiate Academy

Dorchester Collegiate Academy Dorchester Collegiate Academy Dorchester Collegiate Academy

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