|President Barack Obama is accompanied by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and philanthropist Melinda Gates at TechBoston Academy on March 8, 2011.|
|Students at TechBoston listen intently to Obama’s speech on education reform. Many were impressed with how personable he was and said that they would never forget this moment. (Sandy Middlebrooks photos)|
The presidential aura is still lingering through the halls of TechBoston Academy.
It has been over a week since President Barack Obama’s March 8 visit to the Dorchester school, but students, teachers and administrators are still gushing about the packed audience, national media and generous words from Obama himself. “…I wanted to come to TechBoston so that the rest of America can see how it’s done,” Obama explained. “You guys are a model for what’s happening all across the country.”
Like many students, Steevens Esperant had a hard time believing that the president would choose to visit TechBoston. “The fact that he took time out of everything he could [be doing] in the world to come see us was great,” Esperant said.
It wasn’t until after the fact that Gregory Bullock and Esperant realized and truly appreciated the significance of Obama’s visit and that specific comment. “I was very, very moved and very impressed because [Obama] showed that he cared and he wanted other schools to see what we’re about.” Bullock said.
Esperant expressed a similar sentiment: “I definitely felt proud of my school.”
And he should — as should the rest of the student body, faculty and school community.
Headmaster Mary Skipper has seen TechBoston grow tremendously since it was founded with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2002. She said that she felt blessed that TechBoston was chosen as a model for the rest of the country.
“We got picked on merit,” Skipper said. “He picked us because we’re making a difference.”
What makes TechBoston unique is that it was created as one of Boston’s first pilot schools, which has allowed administrators to have flexibility with staffing, budget, curriculum and a longer school day. Skipper attributes TechBoston’s success to the quality of her teachers and the fact that many of them have multiple certifications.
Skipper also spoke of the partnerships TechBoston has developed with the local community, philanthropists and businesses, and the importance of fostering those relationships. She said that she doesn’t think any school can do it all on its own and TechBoston is proof of that.
Obama echoed these beliefs.
“We need to recognize that the true path to reform has to involve partnerships between teachers and school administrators and communities,” Obama said.
Over the years, TechBoston has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Boston Foundation, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Google, University of Massachusetts, Boston and Harvard, among a host of others to afford their students the opportunity to work with and experience some of the most up to date technologies before they enter college.
TechBoston’s curriculum is rigorous and technology-based in all subject areas and can be tweaked depending on a student’s strengths and weaknesses. The school further implements technology in the classroom by giving every student a laptop beginning in eighth grade. Students are required to take four years of math, science and technology. A sampling of the courses offered includes: Biotechnology, Forensic Science, Entrepreneurship and Computer Science. Students must also complete four years of English.
As a junior, Bullock already recognizes the value in having a challenging, technology-based curriculum and knows that the skills he’s acquired at TechBoston will help place him ahead of the curve when he enters college.
“The greatest part about this school is I have so many options,” Bullock said. As for his future, all Bullock knows for certain is that it will include going to college.
Unlike Bullock, many high schools students in the United States do not have that same positive outlook for their futures. In his speech, Obama acknowledged that far too many students in the United States are not prepared with the adequate skills they need when they go out into the workforce searching for decent paying jobs.
“Today, as many as a quarter of American students are not finishing high school — a quarter,” Obama said last week. “The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. And America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. We used to be number one, and we’re now number nine. That’s not acceptable.”
TechBoston does not fall into that category. Its graduation rate is 83 percent, which happens to be 20 percent higher than the Boston Public Schools average. And to compliment that statistic, 94 percent of TechBoston graduates go on to attend a two- or four-year college or university.
To combat low high school graduation rates and the lack of quality in math and science instruction, Obama stressed the need for higher standards and expectations, as well as increased time in the classroom.
Obama was able to spend some time in two classrooms during his visit at TechBoston — Mr. James Louis’ Biotechnology class and Mrs. Sandy Derstine-Desai’s AP Government class — meeting and speaking to students about their current workload, as well as their college aspirations.
Seniors Ronny De Leon and Paula Dixon said they were both privileged to meet Obama when he visited their Biotechnology class. Since Obama’s visit, De Leon said that he has noticed that “students are prouder of themselves.”
Dixon said the president’s visit has motivated her now more than ever. “I just want to make the best of the last months I have [here at TechBoston].”
De Leon agreed with Dixon and said that his meeting and conversation with the president has given him the “extra push not to slack off.”
“In order to accomplish in life, you just have to make that effort,” he added.
Students at TechBoston are dedicated to becoming successful, and TechBoston’s teachers are responsible for that in a big way. They hold their students to high standards and are able to cater to individual student’s needs. “We’re very committed to having profound relationships with kids,” Robin Citrin, a technology teacher at TechBoston said. “That’s what we do best.”
Esperant, a senior, doesn’t deny this. “You’re not just a number,” he said. “You’re an actual person. Teachers take time to get to know you.”
For Lisa Martinez, chief academic officer at TechBoston, Obama’s visit could not have come at a better time. It provided a renewed sense of excitement and community as TechBoston prepares to merge its upper and lower schools (grades 6-12) into one at the Dorchester Education Complex beginning this fall.
“This is a perfect jumping off point,” Martinez said.
Citrin agreed when reflecting on the experience. “I think it’s the best thing that can happen to our kids,” he said. “This is fuel that our kids are going to get [to help them] through the next year. It’s amazing.”