“I feel like I’m on equal footing with everyone else”: BDEA 2.0 takes an emancipatory approach to educating the most vulnerable students

BDEA, and its 2.0 program, is an alternative charter school in the district specializing in the education of students who did not succeed in traditional schools. Many students had dropped out due to bullying, unstable housing, or outright boredom in traditional classrooms. Others are breadwinners and need an education that can be flexible with their working hours. They see the application-only program, which takes an average of three years, as their path to earning a BPS degree.

The program, which launched in the 2018-2019 school year with 34 students, was designed to help more black and Latino students graduate, although a handful of female students also make it. All of the 60 students currently enrolled are people of color who are over the age of their grade level and who came to BDEA with too few course credits.

The learning environment is unique: lessons take place at the Intrepid Academy in Hale, a nature reserve specializing in outdoor learning. Unlike the traditional education model, this peaceful educational setting – where students attend four times a week for 10 weeks – attempts to produce better outcomes for some of the district’s most vulnerable students.

Hale’s leading outdoor guide, Sydney Howland, helps students with their assignment ‘The Future of Work’. Clockwise from left are Eli Zorrilla, 18, Deshawn Goncalves, 20, Howland, Dorian Santana, 18, and Elizabeth “Lizzy” Mack, 17. Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

But by most measures, the program, which costs about $700,000 a year, had little success. The school has been slow to produce graduates among its students with high needs. Attendance, at 60%, remains problematic and only eight of the 100 students who have participated in the program have earned degrees since its inception four years ago. Sixty of these 100 students remain while others have left 2.0; some came back at the main campus of BDEA or rather pursued aged, while others gave up work or move out of the neighborhood. Sixteen others are on track to graduate within a year.

Yet Adam Kho, an assistant professor of K-12 educational policy and leadership at the University of Southern California, says it typically takes three to six years to effectively measure success. a program, and warns that alternative schools like 2.0″ are different, so we should hold them to different measurements.

“A lot of these students are entering these schools already behind, or already considered dropouts, or already considered a failure in terms of traditional measures,” said Kho, whose research focuses on reform policies and programs that target historically marginalized students.

Although the numbers are few, school leaders still see progress as a success. They believe that over time the number of graduates will increase. For nearly two years, the pandemic has disrupted the ability for students to meet on-site, a key part of the program.

“One hundred percent of our students are students who weren’t on track to graduate, so if we have a graduate, that’s one more student from Boston who found success, ended up that otherwise wasn’t going to get where it was,” said Adrianne Level, Program Manager 2.0. “The way we define success is that sense of belonging and helping students develop that agency and understand what they want to do and their purpose in life.”

However, for those who graduated through the program, it was a turning point in their lives. Of the eight graduates, five, including Lawton, returned to work at 2.0 as teaching assistants. Kho says returning students “speak a lot. I mean, if you think about the number of students from traditional schools going back to teaching, it’s far from [that].”

Lawton said he returned because growing up, “I didn’t see the educator I needed.”

“An educator who went through the hardships I had, not being able to read, graduated late,” Lawton said. “I want to warn students and hopefully avoid the problems I encountered as a student.”

Humanities professor David Jones, center, founding educator of BDEA 2.0, completes a lesson.Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

The Framework for 2.0 breaks with convention and focuses on the holistic needs of its students.

Academically, students take courses in topics designed to make them more aware of the systems of oppression they encounter, to reflect on their roles within these systems, and to encourage them to take the initiative to change. the status quo. For example, David Jones, a Social Studies 2.0 teacher, leads a class called “Ancestry of the Land” in which students learn about the history of Indigenous peoples in Massachusetts and beyond while questioning their own ancestral origins through family interviews and historical documents.

Students complete their homework at their own pace and work in groups. No assignments are given and no letter grades are distributed. Instead, students are assessed on a scale from basic to highly proficient to determine if they have acquired the proficiency necessary for course credit. Educators give students diagnostics before placing them in a course and respond to student strengths as they work at an individualized pace.

Classes are taught by a diverse group of educators; 90% of the pilot’s personnel are people of color, reflecting the student population. Level says the school is “intentional” to ensure potential applicants can connect with BDEA’s unique student population.

“It was important for us to make sure we had a staff that reflected diversity, not just in skin color, but the experiences that go with skin,” Jones said.

Along with academic courses, students also take courses focused on their next steps after graduation. In the first semester of the school year, students take a career search course, then a professional development course, and finally they are placed in paid, city-funded internships.

Cheuper Freeman, left, student support manager at BDEA 2.0, walks with student Deshawn Goncalves.Staff of Pat Greenhouse/Globe

The 2.0 program also pays special attention to students’ emotions. The well-being. In Halle, there are two student aid specialists and a social worker. Students have designated hours in which they are encouraged to speak freely in groups about what they think and to support each other. They are often allowed to finish their work wherever is most convenient for them: by the fireplace or in a rocking chair on the back porch. There is also a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ period where students can choose from an assortment of activities like going for a hike, making a fire, or doing some archery.

Deshawn Goncalves, 20, a 2.0 sophomore who is due to graduate in December, said he hopes to become a welder.

“There are a lot of benefits to helping move forward kids who felt behind their whole lives,” Goncalves said. “Now I feel like I’m on an equal footing with everyone.”

Editor’s note: The BDEA 2.0 program previously received $750,000 over a three-year period from the Barr Foundation, which also partially funds the Globe’s Great Divide education team.

The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and across the state. Sign up to receive our newsletter and send ideas and tips to [email protected]


Julian EJ Sorapuru is a development researcher at The Globe and can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JulianSorapuru