Monday, November 28, 2005

Boston's Best-Kept Education Secret

The Epiphany School is a private, tuition-free middle school that has a very non-traditional way of doing things in Dorchester, which is one of Boston's most troubled areas: (emphasis added)
Epiphany, with 80 fifth- to eighth-graders, runs nearly 12 hours a day, 11 months a year with one mission: To give students who would otherwise be in public schools what public schools don't. While public schools, operating with less and less money, are limiting extracurricular activities and accepting that they cannot act as social agencies, the Epiphany School says it works because it does.

''The goal is to be everything a family needs," said John Finley IV, Epiphany's head of school and cofounder. He wants to buy more property to create low-cost housing for parents and transitional homes for foster children who attend the school.

Tucked between Codman Square and Fields Corner, the small school takes in children whose worlds can sometimes be filled with chaos, neglect, and violence -- and devoid of role models or even warm meals and housing. Rather than ignore those forces or battle them one by one, the school has tried to create a competing and almost all-encompassing universe where students can not only learn, but grow up.

On weekdays, they spend 7:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. inside the school. They eat breakfasts of scrambled eggs and pancakes and lunches of rice and beans and chicken. At dinner, they use plates, instead of lunch trays, and real silverware. Parents and siblings are encouraged to dine alongside.

The school also provides comprehensive healthcare for students. Once enrolled, all students are screened for vision and dental problems, and the school helps students get prescriptions. Epiphany also sets money aside for students who need counseling or mental health therapy and whose families cannot afford the care. If families don't have health insurance, the school connects them with social service agencies and community healthcare organizations.

The school is also open on Saturdays, providing children with cooking and dance classes and sports. Field trips are also unique. For example, every summer Epiphany takes a group of students on extended sailing trips, teaching them how to work together.

Epiphany accepts only Boston residents, usually about 20 a year picked through a lottery. The school does not advertise, and gets most of its applicants through word of mouth.

The student body is nearly all minorities -- 73 percent black, 19 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian, and 4 percent white. The school also reserves 20 percent of its places for foster children.

But there are two ironclad requirements -- the student's family must be poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and to get parents involved, they must volunteer at least two hours a week at the school on tasks such as preparing meals or answering phones.

Because of all the extra programs and services, Epiphany spends about $20,000 per student each year -- all raised through private donations -- compared with about $10,700 per pupil for Boston public schools.
There is much more to read in this whole informative piece.

Even though Epiphany is a day school, I believe that they are using a tried and true method commonly found in America's elite boarding schools: Put the kids into uniforms, keep 'em busy all day, and dole out free time warily. Students won't have the time or energy to get into much trouble.

Students who complete Epiphany's program regularly go on to some of Boston's most prestigious high schools, with 19 of 20 of the first group eligible being admitted to college, with the 20th enlisting in the army.
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