Achieve is a three-year, year-round program for Boston middle school students. Students apply and are accepted to the program at Noble and Greenough School where they are provided with high-quality education and help navigating the high school application process.
Focus on manners, support, and community in daily activities creates a culture of respect that students strive to uphold.
Conflict is to be expected among young people, but having mental health support available for students is critical in crafting a healthy environment for conflict mediation.
Older students serve as informal mentors to younger students, continuing the tradition of respect for the program.
“Relationship before task” means that staff can’t ask students to do anything until they know them personally. Focus on this mantra breeds strong relationships between students and staff such that each student has multiple staff members with which they feel they have a close relationship.
Q: How do you maintain a supportive environment for students to work with their peers without conflict?
A: We set the groundwork early about what a respectful community looks like. We have Morning and Afternoon Meeting; every morning we have a word of the day, and the words of the day aren’t SAT words or words you need to know for college or anything like that, it’s a word that everybody already knows, but that we want the space to embody. The first three words are our core values: respect for self, respect for others, and honesty. A different staff member talks about what that word means to them (either tells a personal story, shares a YouTube clip that might be a celebrity or a TED Talk with kids), and they ask the kids to respond about what that would look like in this space. And that’s how we start our day and I think it really sets the tone. Similarly, at our afternoon meeting, we bring up the word again but instead of it being an adult, a student in the oldest grade level—they have to do this in order to graduate—gets up and talks about what the word means to them and how their day was impacted by that word. And I think because of that, the bookended opening and closing, one led by a staff and one led by a student, the kids really listen, and they work to really keep this space sacred.
We spend a lot of time on culture here—not explicitly talking to kids about it but instituting systems that create positive culture. Small examples: when the kids get off the bus in the morning, they have to get in line and shake every single staff member’s hand and say good morning. When they get on the bus, they have to go back through the line and say goodbye, and we go over what a good handshake is, what a good greeting is, we talk about looking each other off the eye, and walking off the bus and seeing every person you’re going to see that day and shaking their hand and looking them in the eye and knowing that you’re going to have a good day, I think is a great way for kids to start.
The other big piece is mental health support. We have a full-time mental health counselor here, she’s employed by the Home for Little Wanderers but she works in Boston Public Schools during the school year, so she understands the demographic of students that we’re supporting, and she’s here for kids. The door is always open, kids are always dropping in just to say hi and hang out, but she also carries a caseload of about 20 kids, so if there are issues where kids are struggling or they’re having a tough time or we need a mediation, it’s not just an adult who’s not necessarily trained with the skills—you need to have a positive mediation between students who are struggling, which happens a lot—it’s a professional who knows how to do it well, and the kids feel really respected and they can then move forward together.
Q: How do you promote positive conflict resolution between students before going to an adult?
A: We firmly believe here, more than anything else, relationship before task. We talk about it all the time that we can’t ask our students to do anything unless we truly know them for who they are and spend time getting to know them as individuals, and I think that goes a long way. We’re 80 kids and 27 staff members, and I would guess that if you asked any student here they’d be able to identify more than one adult they really feel connected to, and that’s because our adults really spend a lot of time getting to know kids.
We do a lot of informal mentorship; our advisories are mixed-grade, and the reason we put kids in different grades in the same group is our hope is that the oldest students support and cling on to the younger students and show them the ropes. I think our oldest students feel a responsibility to set the tone and example because they want this community to be a strong one, so they see the kids who are struggling and look out for them. We also talk a lot about advocacy here and the importance of asking for what you need and standing up for yourself, and so kids really take that to heart. I also think kids are really good at using their resources. When there’s something going on they feel like they can’t handle, they’re not afraid to come to adults, and I think that helps too. If they’re trying something on their own and it’s not working, they know that there’s other resources and that they’re not going to have to keep moving in a situation where they don’t feel safe.
Achieve at Noble and Greenough School accepts Boston Public Schools students on an application process. Starting the summer before 7th grade and continuing until the summer before 9th grade, students engage in 6-week summer programs and school year meetings twice per month to help advance in school and prepare for success in high school and beyond. In the summer piece, students go on field trips, enjoy enrichment activities such as rocket club and dance, and take classes in math, science, and English.