Achieve is a multi-year program that serves middle school students in summer and school year to help them grow their academic skills and succeed.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon; just because you don’t see immediate changes in students doesn’t mean the impact isn’t there.

  • Helping kids come to their own conclusions about their performance and behavior makes them feel more personally involved in and responsible for their process.

  • Creative an open and joyful environment makes kids more comfortable with their own successes and failures.

  • Encourage students to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, so that they see opportunities for growth as opportunities rather than punishments.

Could you give an example of a specific practice or activity in which you encourage growth and improvement over talent and/or static accomplishment?

 

We have a morning and afternoon meeting every day framed around a particular SEL buzzword. The morning meeting is led by a different staff member every day, and they have to share a personal story about a time in their life where they either struggled with that word or realized what that word meant to them. In the afternoon, a graduating student does the same thing. Those are some of the more powerful moments, when adults are willing to be really vulnerable with kids. Nobody in this community pretends to have it all together.

How do you help students see setbacks not as failures, but as an opportunity for growth?

 

We talk a lot about safe failures at Achieve. We have some intentional policies around homework and absences that allow kids to understand that their decisions have real consequences, but that ultimately aren’t going to make them feel “less than.” Students only get 3 unexcused absences, and if they get 4 the language is, “You may lose your seat at Achieve.” Oftentimes at the 4th absence we have a big conversation around what’s happening. Most often they’re not actually kicked out, but it’s scary enough that they realize, “Oh, I can’t just go to my friend’s house instead of coming to the program.”

How do you create an environment that emphasizes collaboration over competition?

 

This is an incredibly happy, loving, and supportive community. It starts from the adults. We do things here that wouldn’t be allowed in Boston Public Schools. We hug our students all of the time, and tell them we love them. All of the adults here go by our first names. If I get to call students by their first names and they have to call me something different, then it’s essentially saying that we’re not actually all in this work together. We talk about how Achieve is not a hierarchy; we are a family, we are a community, and we are going to make mistakes together and learn together.

When we do have competitions, they’re fun and silly and very much about taking risks in this safe community. We do a lip sync battle every year, and every kid in every advisory group has to at least stand up on stage in some capacity. We might recognize “Most Creative” or “Biggest Risk” but nobody actually wins first place. It’s never really about winning, it’s never about being the best. It’s always about growth.

Best Practices

  • Having adult staff be open and vulnerable with students about their own personal strengths and struggles makes it clear that nobody is perfect.
  • Peer mentorship pairs and groups between grade levels allow younger students to see the positive effects of a growth mindset in a more relatable way.
  • Creating opportunities for “safe failure” lets students get comfortable with making mistakes without serious consequences.

“The most important thing is that kids have to feel like they are seen. If they don’t feel like they’re seen and heard, even if you’re doing a ton of work around growth and the results are good, they’re not going to recognize that they’ve been a part of the process.”

 

 

Achieve is a 3 year program that serves roughly 85 middle school-aged students. Students start the program in the 6th grade and participate in two years of bi-weekly school-year programming as well as three summers of daily programming. Programming includes academic instruction in English, math, and science as well as enrichment activities.