Alternative Education: Re-Engaging Boston's Disengaged Students

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“We leave too much to the individual to make the actual connections as to why school is important. When a student says, “Education is not relevant to me” -- and the students who are saying it in a real way, and are acting on it, are by and large urban students from low-income families -- you have to realize that even though it might sound kind of jerkish when they’re saying it, it’s coming from a real place.”

~Manny Allen, Director of the Boston Re-engagement Center


In 2016-17, 660 BPS students stopped attending their high schools before they received a diploma.

While this represents one of the lowest dropout rates in the district’s history, we have something to learn from every single one of these students’ stories. Something to learn about their struggles. Something to learn about their brilliance. Something to learn about our high schools. Something to learn about our city.

And there may be no better person to help us understand these stories than our guest for this week’s podcast, Manny Allen, the Director of BPS’ Re-engagement Center.

But let’s back up for a moment.

On March 1st, Interim Superintendent Perille announced the formulation of six working groups to investigate a range of systemic challenges in BPS’ high schools. In our last few blogs and podcasts, we focused on one of these group topics: MassCore and HS Graduation Requirements.

The working groups have made strong and rapid progress. Just last week, they presented their preliminary findings and recommendations to the School Committee, and the Globe also just ran an article highlighting the findings of the MassCore working group. We hope that you'll read all of the memos, as they offer a potential road map that incoming Superintendent Cassellius can follow as she begins to shape her plan for addressing gaps and inequities in our high schools.

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In this blog and podcast, we’re going to do another deep dive into one more of these groups: the network of 13 alternative high schools and community-based pathway programs that serve just under 1,000 students who at some point dropped out or disengaged from our traditional high schools.

And that brings us back to Manny.

Manny and his team at the REC are typically the first point of contact for a student who has disengaged from school or is thinking about disengaging. This is where the journey to an alternative high school education begins.

In his interview with Jill, we learn how critical it is to have adults who can empathize with these students--adults who start from a point of understanding that there are real, valid, evidence-based reasons why a kid from Boston might not see any value in this thing called school.

Manny should know. He was one of those students years ago, having dropped out of high school for a full year before returning to complete his diploma and then ultimately going on to college and an MBA from Northeastern University. We are so grateful to him for his willingness to share his own story as well as the insights he has gained from hearing hundreds of other students open up to his counsel over the past decade.

Our other takeaway from this conversation is just how vital it is for BPS and other community-based organizations to employ and develop a whole workforce of Manny Allens. The students who are most disengaged and disconnected from education need to see their own lives and stories reflected in the individuals who are on the front lines of trying to bring them back to a path of hope.

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