We're Learning Here!

Boston Adult Technical Academy
A project by: Amika Kemmler-Ernst

Boston Adult Technical Academy’s mission is to meet the needs of students aged 19-22 who have recently entered the US or returned after dropping out of school. 60% are English Language Learners, and I talked with several who had recently come from Haiti, Algeria, or the Dominican Republic. In recognition of their success with meeting the needs of an extremely diverse ELL population, BATA received the 2014 Office of English Language Learners Acquisition Award from the Newcomers Assessment and Counseling Center.

Biology teacher Sheila Holland invited me to visit, saying her school provides a “warm, supportive environment, where students can really feel how much staff members care about them.” BATA moved this year from Mattapan to Bay Village, around the corner from the Mass Pike and the Quincy School. I walked along brick sidewalks past cobblestone streets, flowering window boxes, and gas lamps... a neighborhood more reminiscent of the North End than the nearby theater district!

The first person I met was Hakim Johnson, a former student of mine and currently BATA’s Community Field Coordinator, who was leading an orientation for several new students. Imagine my delight when he told me he still has the journals he wrote in fourth and fifth grade!

Classes at BATA are small and teachers offer a lot of individualized instruction and support. I watched as math teacher Kevin Liu moved from table to table, offering help and encouragement to his students. ELA teacher Gage Norris was leading a lively discussion of Othello, asking students to consider whether the main character had choice or was a victim of prophecy. Nathan Eckstrom was teaching correct English grammar and sentence structure, while Susana Stringer helped her students learn how to paraphrase what they had read.

Students can take online courses as well as attend traditional classes, thanks to the expansion of a credit recovery program developed by Maggie Reis, Director of Operations/Educational Options. She talked passionately about how important it is to make students feel welcome and described principal Sheila Azores as a “rock solid leader” who practices shared leadership.

The focus is clearly on academics here; there is no gym, there are no art or music classes. Omar Gomez, a student who is determined to be a positive role model for his daughter, told me: “BATA is a great school for learning… you just have to put yourself into what you’ve got to do. Everyone is cool with each other, everybody’s there for one thing only, with the same motivation.” In a society where many young people take their education for granted, Boston Technical Adult Academy is indeed special.


Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.