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Roxbury exchange program increases appreciation for South’s educational rigor

By Ben Chelmow
Published: April 2009

March 20 was a normal school day for all but 20 South students. These students were part of High School Connections, a new exchange program with the Urban Science Academy (USA), a small, science and technology-focused subset of West Roxbury Educational Complex. In addition to South’s visit to USA, 20 USA students visited South on March 23.

The idea of a Newton-Boston Public School exchange program first arose in 2006 when the Social Justice Club visited Hyde Park High School in conjunction with a Howard Zinn lecture.

South METCO counselor and Black Student Union (BSU) advisor Katani Sumner wrote a grant for the exchange earlier this year.

Sponsored by the PTSO, the BSU, and the principal’s discretionary fund, the grant called for two separate exchanges, one in October and one in March, each involving a group of 40 South and USA students.
While at USA, each South student shadowed a USA student, following and observing them throughout the day.
Many South students were shocked by the drastic differences between USA and South. At USA, students have no free time; free blocks, study halls, and open campus privileges were nonexistent. A dress code was strictly enforced that did not permit students to wear hats.

South students also remarked on how USA’s academics were far less rigorous than South’s. Standard level courses at USA were comparable to curriculum II courses at South. In addition because of the newness of AP programs, students seldom scored higher than 3′s.

“I feel that [the exchange] was an eye-opener and a good experience to be a part of because it teaches us to be grateful and appreciative of all that we already have, South senior and exchange participant Amanda Miranda said.

Following USA’s visit to South, Sumner and Anita Sutton, USA’s faculty liaison to the program, held a debriefing in the library.

The debriefing, focused largely on USA’s visit to South, serving as a forum in which students could express their reactions to the exchange. 20 South students, their USA shadows, the South students who participated in the October exchange, and the BSU officers were present at the meeting.

USA students remarked on how they found life at South surprisingly “laid back.

Compared to USA, teachers at South did not seem highly concerned with lateness or the behavior of students, and USA students pointed out that at their school, students are often forced to participate in class.

Some USA students expressed admiration for this freedom, comparing the teaching styles of teachers at South to those of college professors, yet man of them felt that their lest favorite aspect of South were the free blocks, calling them boring.

Sumner asked the USA students about how they thought South could be improved. USA students remarked on how teachers should be more “engaging; the relationship between teachers and students was noticeably “distant. They did not see many teachers talking to students about topics other than academics.
Many of them remarked that South’s overall student community seemed highly fractious.

“There are a whole bunch of separate groups. Nobody meets anyone else, USA student Isaac Weeks said. USA students agreed that something should be done to promote connectivity within the student body.
USA and South students agreed that the exchange was a valuable experience.

South senior Alex Caron remarked on how the experience of visiting another school, particularly a less privileged one, “really teaches you to appreciate your own school. Caron also suggested that students should shadow each other for an entire week rather than just one day during future exchanges.
Sumner felt that the impact of the program was “overwhelmingly positive.

“It would be great to set [the exchange] up as a partnership so that both of the schools can continue to learn and grow with the experience, Sumner said.

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