Valedictorian credits school’s support network
If not for Advanced Placement pre-calculus, Natalia Phillips may have made it through New Mission High School with all A-pluses.
“I was adjusting to AP classes,” she said. “It was kind of rocky in the beginning. But then I got the hang of it.”
That rough spot earned her an A-minus. But she still has maintained a grade point average of 4.91. Although second in her class, Phillips’ winning attitude earned her the valedictorian spot for the Hyde Park pilot school.
“I was a little surprised,” Phillips said of the honor. “I didn’t expect it.”
Born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Phillips came to Boston in 2011 with her mother, two older sisters and younger brother. She attended Up Academy in South Boston before starting at New Mission. The school’s teaching staff helped Phillips with the transition.
“The teachers were really nice,” she said. “I often had to stay after school for help.”
Students also were helpful. When Phillips struggled to make her Caribbean accent intelligible to her classmates, a fellow Dominica-born student stepped in to help her adjust. That spirit of helpfulness, she says, extends to the teachers and administrators at New Mission as well.
“The support here is beyond what I’ve ever seen,” she said. “When I came here, I felt I really belonged. The teachers helped me become a better student.”
New Mission encourages teachers to stay after school at least two days a week, ensuring that there are teachers available every school day. Teachers also are on-hand Saturdays, to help AP students keep up with the school’s rigorous coursework.
“We have quite a few built-in mechanisms to help the students,” said New Mission’s principal Naia Williams.
The school’s investment pays off: 90 percent of the students graduate and 70 percent go on to attend a four-year college or university, Williams said.
The school shares the old Hyde Park High School building with the Boston Community Leadership Academy. New Mission enrolls 293 students, with an average class size of 22.
Williams attributes the school’s success to its small size, academic rigor and focus on student support.
“Every student takes at least one AP class,” she said. “In order for that to happen, you need to have a lot of support. We want students to finish school with a transcript that shows that they’re competent.”
And well-behaved. In the 2013-2014 academic year, the school reported zero suspensions.
Phillips will attend Bryn Mawr College next year, where she plans to major in biology.
Outside the classroom, she excelled in sports, playing on the school’s volleyball, softball and track teams. She also broke two BPS records: a 40’ 10” shotput throw that exceeded the previous record by a quarter-inch, and a 110’ javelin throw that broke the previous 103’ record.
While she plans to compete in college, Phillips’ main objective is to become a surgeon, a dream that grew out of watching her mother work as a nurse in Dominica.
“She would take me to work and show me how to take someone’s blood pressure,” she said.
For now, Phillips is looking forward to graduation. During the ceremony, students show each other support, she says.
“Everybody cheers everyone on. It’s a small school. Everyone knows everyone.”