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Achieve Program helps drive student success

Initiative celebrates 15 years of helping middle school students reach high school and college

Ella Willis
Achieve Program helps drive student success
Achieve student Thalita Almondes raises hand in class. Achieve works with a cohort of 30 middle school students every year, who participate for a three-year period starting the summer before the seventh grade. PHOTO: THE ACHIEVE PROGRAM

When she started in the Achieve Program, Thalita Almondes of East Boston was good at reading, but she struggled in math.

Now three years later, she aces both.

“I’ve loved it,” said Almondes, who is now 13.

She is one of hundreds of middle school students who have participated in Achieve, which is now in its 15th year.

The tuition-free program, whose mission is to close the achievement gap and open access to learning, has helped roughly 400 middle school students get on a path to college or into one of the city’s three competitive exam schools. The program is based at The Noble and Greenough School, an independent boarding school in Dedham.

Of 95 recent graduates of Achieve’s middle school program, all but one are in a high-performing high school, said executive director Reginald Toussaint. He attributes the success of the program to its focus on social and emotional development, small cohort groups to give students individualized attention and extra doses of fun.

“We have a rigorous academic program, but we also include a lot of developmentally appropriate activities for our students,” Toussaint said. “When young people have a chance to feel agency and ownership of what they do, they’re more likely to be engaged.”

But its mission is far greater — it is to give students in marginalized communities every opportunity to succeed, he added.

Executive Director of Achieve Reginald Toussaint with student. PHOTO: THE ACHIEVE PROGRAM

Achieve’s website cites research from the National Summer Learning Association that shows that under-resourced students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation and more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers demonstrate summer learning gains.

Achieve works with a cohort of 30 middle school students every year, who participate for a three-year period starting the summer before the seventh grade. The staff visits nearly two dozen Boston public schools to speak directly to sixth-graders, with the expectation that enthusiastic students will inspire their parents to go through the application process. 

Students commit to three summers, and the program concludes just before they enter the ninth grade. They also receive support on Saturdays during the academic year.

Toussaint said the most successful Achieve student is someone who is comfortable in a school environment and committed to learning.

“For us, it has to be a kid who doesn’t mind doing math in July (or) August,” he said. “Someone who’s curious, who’s looking to see what else the world has to offer.”

Competitiveness is a key characteristic too. Achieve students strive for excellence, and that doesn’t always look like the same path, Toussaint said.

“I’m really proud to say the majority of our kids stay in the districts where they come from,” Toussaint said. “We are not coming to provide resources and shifting a kid to go somewhere else. We do our best to not take away the brightest kids from the districts where they come from.”

Thalita Almondes said that she was “shy and scared,” when she first started the program. But she grew more confident with the small classes, help from tutors and assistance from other program participants.

“I get a chance to learn new things,” Thalita said, “and I get a chance to try new things I never got a chance to try.”

Her mother, Zayra Almondes, said that program has worked with her to assist Thalita with her applications to high schools next fall, including the essays, financial aid forms and other documents that Thalita needs.

“They are helping not just Thalita, but myself,” she said, adding that the program is serious about “teaching the kids and empowering the kids — and they go further.”

Thalita Almondes will spend her final summer in the program next year, as she prepares to enter high school. She has applied to six high schools already, including Noble and Greenough and Boston’s three exam schools.

And this year, with Achieve’s coaching, she was named a 2023 Red Sox Scholar, an honor that includes a $10,000 college scholarship and academic, social and career support for nine years. 

“It’s unbelievable,’” her mother said. “Achieve and the Red Sox are taking care of Thalita. They are doing together.”

Her daughter said she hopes to stay connected to the Achieve program for the rest of the year. She said the program has asked her and other participants to identify a sixth-grader who would be a good fit for the program. That person, she said, should be kind, helpful and love academics.

Achieve Program, Education