• Community Engagement

    "PATHWAYS" to Brighter Futures

Program Background

High School Engagement Initiative

William James College Partnership with Boston Public Schools Aimed at Improving Academic Outcomes among Urban Students

William James College is committed to reducing suspension and truancy rates and to increasing graduation rates among students enrolled in two Boston Public high schools: Urban Science Academy (USA) and West Roxbury Academy (WRA), both located at the West Roxbury Education Complex. Our collaboration with USA and WRA offers valuable interdisciplinary opportunities for William James College students-for those with multicultural interests as well as for those in the Forensic, School Psychology, and childhood/adolescence and family programs. Interested students would get clinical and research training along with opportunities to conduct supervised interviews, participate in the writing of grants, prepare presentations for conferences, and work on Capstone and Doctoral Projects.

In 2012, William James College partnered with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) and the Haitian Mental Health Network (HMHN) to create a program targeting students who were at risk for suspension, truancy and failing to meet graduation requirements. The initial goal of the program was to better understand and address the factors that interfered with students' engagement in school. The program was held proximal to West Roxbury high school at William James College's 1208 VFW Parkway facility and was staffed by MSPCC and HMHN clinicians, assisted by William James College practicum students.

Our pilot project with USA, The Reflection and Re-entry Program, was a voluntary, one-day alternative to traditional "at-home" suspension. Twenty-one students participated; their ages were 14-18 and their offenses included fighting, theft, substance use, and disrespect toward teachers. The program offered mental health screenings, psychoeducation on better decision-making skills, and an individualized academic and behavioral plan.  At the end of the weekly sessions, the clinicians sent a report to USA staff detailing what steps the school could take to help each student follow his or her plan and ensure successful re-entry into the school environment. Students who required more specialized mental health interventions were referred to MSPCC and HMHN. There were no re-suspension incidents for students who took part in the Reflection and Re-entry Program.

Our pilot project with WRA, Operation Graduation 2013, was an "almost there" effort for seniors who were at risk of not graduating due to too many unexcused absences. A major component of the program was the opportunity to "buy back" absence days by completing missed academic assignments. Each student spent a day at 1208 VFW Parkway-for mental health screenings and for the development of an individualized behavioral plan to reduce absenteeism-and then attended mentoring sessions at WRA with Operation Graduation 2013 staff. The mentoring was designed to help students follow their plans to increase school attendance.  Youth who needed more extensive mental health care were referred to MSPCC and HMHN. All 17 students who participated in Operation Graduation 2013 have graduated.

On July 15, 2013, William James College hosted a luncheon for the team who coordinated and implemented both projects. It was an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of William James College to the school-based initiative in the Boston Public Schools, thank our partner agencies, acknowledge the dedication and contributions of the staff, and reflect on the successes and challenges encountered during this past academic year. In attendance were administrators and staff from WRA (Rudy Weekes, Marc Abelard and Alexandra Darius-Jean), administrators from USA (Karen Cowan and Jeff Cook), MSPCC clinicians (Dr. Monica Roizner and Dawn Alexander), and HMHN clinicians (Berthonia Antoine and Dr. Gemima St. Louis). Also present were Dr. David Herzog (William James College), Lauren Hodge (William James College Intern), Dominique Bastien (HMHN Intern), and Denise Duggan and Anne Malone (MSPCC).

Team Members of the School Engagement Initiative at West Roxbury Education Complex

Team Members of the School Engagement Initiative at West Roxbury Education Complex (From left to right) Front Row: Lauren Hodge, Monica Roizner, Alexandra Darius-Jean, Dominique Bastien and Berthonia Antoine Back Row: Jeff Cook, Karen Cowan, Rudy Weekes, Marc Abelard, Dawn Alexander, and Gemima St. Louis.

We look forward to expanding our collaboration with USA and WRA, and implementing evidence-based programs to reduce suspension and truancy rates, assess emotional and psychosocial needs, and improve academic outcomes among students at the West Roxbury Education Complex. For further information about the program, please contact Gemima St. Louis, PhD at gemima_stlouis@williamjames.edu.