“If you are 18 and in the ninth grade, the odds are, you’re going to be susceptible to failure,” Charlestown High School Head Master William Thomas said.
This was the primary idea behind the Diploma Plus program at Charlestown High, a performance-based program for over aged and under credited students. “This is a program for students who have not found success in the classroom,” Thomas said.
With dedicated teachers, guidance councilors and resources for at-risk students, Charlestown High School is the only school in the Boston Public School system with an in-house Diploma Plus program. The program is in its third year and there are 75 students enrolled.
Teachers at Charlestown High School advocated for the Diploma Plus program when they saw how discouraged 16-year-old students were when they were in the same class as 14-year-olds. The dropout rate and poor results from the MCAS also played a major role in the inception of Diploma Plus at Charlestown High School.
“The first thing you notice with these kids is that attendance goes up when they have a closer student/teacher relationship,” Thomas said. “In many ways, this is their last chance in school like this.”
The program is performance based designed to create a positive environment between students and staff. Instead of a conventional grade scale, students are graded on competency. “Confidence is the biggest issue,” Program Director Sunny Pai said. “When a student earns an F, they feel like school is not for them. If they are not used to seeing people in their community do well in a classroom, the issue is further reinforced.”
Paul Holmes, 19, of Mattapan said that he was interested in the program when they told him he could catch up. “I was lost and I was failing hard,” Holmes said. “I told them I was in. I have a whole new perspective on education. I knew I had to kick it up a notch.”
Linda Youngsman, 17, of Charlestown described her experience with Diploma Plus as “baffling.” “I didn’t do any work in regular school,” Youngsman said. “Diploma Plus is a tight knit community. They (the staff) call you or text you when you are late to school to see where you’re at and your peers bring positive energy and encourage you.”
“It’s kind of like a family,” Holmes said. “The teachers are like your parents, you go to them with your problems and they help you out.”
“We welcome visitors at any time,” Sunny Pai said. “Visitors and interested parties should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”