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Natural Awakenings Boston

Boston Green Academy: Preparing Students for Sustainable Lives

Mar 26, 2014 06:57PM ● By Kim Childs

In 2007, a group of educators in Boston came together to propose a new, innovative school aimed at helping at-risk students to succeed and prepare for life in the real world. Four years later, they opened Boston Green Academy (BGA), a charter school that replaced the struggling Odyssey High School, in South Boston, where dropout rates were high and graduation rates were low. Today BGA is thriving, graduating more students, adding middle school grades and preparing for a move to Brighton. The school’s success is due to a caring staff, strong community partners and a curriculum that embraces real life experience. Natural Awakenings spoke with BGA Development Director Mary Callaghan to learn more about the academy’s hands-on approach to education.

Who attends BGA?

We currently have 340 students in grades nine through 12 from across Boston, primarily Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. Any Boston resident can apply and students are selected by lottery. We take all students, regardless of ability, and we have the highest population of special education students among Massachusetts charter schools, representing 33 percent of our student body. We have one-to-one aides for some students, a strong special education teaching staff and differentiated education and inclusion in the classroom.

Why the focus on hands-on learning?

Many of our kids are at risk of failing and dropping out and a majority have experienced trauma in their lives, so it’s not necessarily text books and traditional assignments that work for our students, but experiential learning and getting outside the classroom. This ties in with our green theme because we do a lot of field trips and work with more than 45 partners, including such environmentally conscious organizations as The Nature Conservancy, Boston Bikes and the New England Aquarium.

Are all BGA students studying “green” subjects?

 We teach traditional subjects, but each teacher incorporates green themes when possible. We want students to leave BGA with a plan, whether it’s going to a two- or four-year college or directly entering the workforce. Whatever a student wants to do, we’ll help them figure out a path to get there. We’re introducing a Green Career Pathways program for grades six through 12 that includes placing students in internships with green companies, based on their interests. For example, a student who wants to learn finance might intern in a clean energy company, while a student interested in human resources may end up at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and so on. We’re trying to expose our kids to green industries, companies and individuals, but they don’t have to be a science person to work at these places.

How did you lower the student dropout rates and increase graduation rates?

 Since taking over Odyssey High, the main focus at BGA has been to create a safe, caring culture in which kids want to learn. We’ve made a lot of progress there, thanks to a strong Student Support Team. That team includes two full-time social workers, four community field coordinators, three social work interns and a director of special education. if students are having a hard time, a rough day or problems at home, they can go to these people. We also have a dean of student behavior and the teachers are amazingly devoted. If a student doesn’t come to class, the teachers call their home that day. Parents are notified if students are having issues in class or not attending, and they’re often asked to come in for a meeting. We do a lot of mediation. In the first two years we were reactive. Now we’re more proactive, addressing problems as soon as we see them.

What’s next for BGA?

 As we prepare to move to Brighton, we’re working with the Green Fellow for the City of Boston, to become the first LEEDcertified existing public building in the city. We also hope to green the cafeteria and help kids learn how to grow their own produce and share knowledge about healthy eating with their families. Our annual BostonGreenGala fundraiser on April 2 features Mayor Marty Walsh and we’ll have a lot to celebrate there.

Boston Green Academy is located at 95 G St., South Boston. For more information, call 617-635-9860 or visit BostonGreenAcademy.org.

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