|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
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
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:
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.
- poor academic performance on a consistent basis
- low attendance rate or frequent tardiness
- ongoing behavioral issues
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:
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.
- Parent engagement
- Social/emotional wellness
- Academic rigor
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
the goal of accomplishing academic integration and performance.
"What," she asked, "could we establish as goals in our efforts to help
A typical answer might look like this: Focus on Charles' behavior and get Charles to:
because if you succeed, then he would be able to concentrate on his learning, right?
stop throwing pencils
stop making rude remarks
stop distracting the class
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.
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
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."