Fenway High School's Literacy Program
In the 2001-2002 school year, Boston's Fenway High School had 270 students enrolled in grades 9-12. The student population consisted of 55 percent Black, 20 percent Hispanic, 20 percent White, and 5 percent Asian. Students with limited English proficiency were 8.2 percent of the school, while 58 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The school's attendance rate was 93.8 percent.
Mission & Structure.
Fenway High School was founded in 1983 as an alternative academic program for disadvantaged and/or disaffected students who were failing in one of Boston's large public high schools. From the beginning, it was a pioneer in the small schools movement, which values personalized relationships between teachers and students; integrated, flexible curriculum; on-site, shared decision making; and learning partnerships with outside organizations.
In 1994, the school's co-directors worked with system officials to create the Boston Pilot School model, which gave Fenway control over its educational programs, governance, staffing, and budget. The school has used this autonomy to focus its resources on the learning needs of its diverse students. The Fenway Board of Trustees, representing staff, parents, students, collaborators, and community members, is responsible for overseeing school operations and ensuring that Fenway fulfills its mission.
The school's mission is to create a socially committed and morally responsible community of learners, which values its students as individuals. Its goal is to encourage academic excellence and intellectual habits of mind, self-esteem, and leadership development among all students. Its motto, which is posted in several places in the school, is "Work hard. Be yourself. Do the right thing."
The typical school day at Fenway begins at 8:45 a.m. and ends at 3:25 p.m. Classes vary in length from 70 minutes to 2.5 hours. Some classes meet for the full double period on one day and then for a single period on another. Often there is an all-school assembly with foci ranging from guest speakers and performers to town meeting-type forums to discuss topics important to general life at the school. Help is available in the Learning Center both during and after school. Many students stay after school to work in the computer labs, on the yearbook, or on the school's online literary magazine; to participate in the Massachusetts Pre-Engineering Program (MassPEP), Latino Club, Boys and Girls Discussion Groups, the Prom Committee, or intramural sports; or to get help from the Learning Center.
Students are grouped into "houses," or learning families, each of which has its own faculty and student support staff. Students typically remain in the same house throughout their four years at the school, so that they are well-known by their teachers and form strong bonds with their classmates. Each teacher within a house also serves as an advisor to a group of about 20 students. Each house has a strong relationship with one or more of Fenway's external collaborators, e.g., the Museum of Science.
Central to Fenway's curriculum is the idea that students and teachers should always be asking questions-of each other, of themselves, and of the issues they study. The faculty tries to develop the habit of asking questions by teaching and using a specific set of questions that reflect five habits of mind:
Students take the core subjects of humanities (combination of English and history), math, and science, and they attend regular Advisory meetings. They can also choose among minors such as Spanish, study skills, or the Ventures program (see description below). Students often work in small groups to complete collaborative projects and also to help each other with individual assignments. The close relationship between faculty and students yields a spirited classroom environment, with students participating actively in discussions and special projects.
Advisory meets three hours a week and focuses on students' academic and interpersonal needs. Through Advisory meetings, students and teachers build strong, supportive relationships. The 9th and 10th grade Advisory curriculum includes such topics as health, sexuality, decision making, stress management, violence prevention, civil rights and responsibilities, and community building. The 11th and 12th grade Advisories focus more on issues of higher education, college and career exploration, preparation for graduation, and life beyond Fenway. All students are required to write a substantial reflective essay about their years at Fenway and their future plans, and they must register to vote or develop a substantive argument for non-participation in the electoral process.
Advisory can also be a time for students to work on class portfolios or prepare for exhibitions, Junior Review, or graduation portfolios. Fenway's personalized design puts the point of contact between the home and school squarely on the Advisory relationship and allows teachers to ensure that each student's work and emotional life, both critical to success, are on track. It also guarantees that each student will have at least one advocate who knows him or her, and the family, very well.
Spanish is the sole foreign language offered at Fenway. In keeping with the growing recognition of the importance of world languages, Fenway seeks through its language minor to have students develop a facility in another language and acquire an understanding of a different culture, including its history, politics, literature, religion, and art. Project-based learning is incorporated as much as possible in Spanish classes, helping students to conduct authentic research in ways and at a pace that work best for them but with high standards for all.
The Ventures program uses the context of entrepreneurship to teach 10th through 12th grade students how to interact effectively with people beyond the school and to help them get what they need for success in college or in a chosen field of work. The program's goals are to help students develop initiative, resourcefulness, communication and problem-solving skills, respect for others, self-discipline, and self-confidence; to understand and be able to use basic business and entrepreneurial concepts (e.g., "bottom line"), methodologies (e.g., market research), and tools (e.g., cold calls and letters); and to learn to network with community agencies and entrepreneurs, building relationships that provide opportunities, resources, and mentoring. The Ventures pathway culminates with the full-time, six-week Senior Internship, a Fenway graduation requirement.
Fenway High School teachers and administrators are strong advocates for assessing student performance in a variety of ways: classroom-based diagnostics, portfolios, exhibitions, standardized tests, work internships, integrated projects, and college acceptances (for seniors). Teachers write in-depth narrative reports on all students twice a year. They also give quarterly grades in between these reports.
At the close of 11th grade, all candidates must have their three prior years of academic experience reviewed by teachers, advisors, and collaborators in order to move into Senior Institute. During this ritual assessment of credentials, known as Junior Review, each student must prove his or her abilities in major subject areas and demonstrate readiness for the challenging senior year by showing good attendance, strong portfolios, excellent use of the habits of mind, and social and intellectual maturity.
Senior Institute is the final stage of study for Fenway students and may last one or two years, depending upon recommendations made at Junior Review. It is Fenway's way of preparing students for the "real world." During Senior Institute, students work with advisors to prepare for the process of graduation by portfolio and exhibition and to design and pursue projects that demonstrate their skills. The five components of Senior Institute are coursework (including college or high school classes); senior portfolios in math, science, and humanities classes; Senior Internship; standardized test requirements; and an Advisory Portfolio which includes higher education and future planning, voter registration, and a reflective essay on the Fenway experience. The majority of Fenway's graduates attend college upon graduation or enter into a career ladder position in one of the school's collaborating institutions.