McKinley Prep High School is one of four small, therapeutic sites for students with severe emotional/behavioral challenges in Boston. It was originally designed as a vocational high school, and still has classes in Tech Engineering (woodworking) and Culinary Arts. McKinley Prep serves about 80 students and is located in a two-story brick building in the Fenway that was built in the 1930s as the Martin Milmore Elementary School.

I was invited to visit by Steve Lane, the Tech Engineering teacher whose students recently completed the construction of a full-size greenhouse! Steve envisioned this as “a really cool long-term project” four years ago; since then it has involved approximately forty students, who had a choice of working on the greenhouse or making something of their own when they came to class. In the process they mastered the use of both hand and electric tools, and learned a variety of carpentry skills – from joint making to measuring angles. Although there is no safe place to set up the greenhouse outside the school, the students I spoke with were very proud of their accomplishment!

In the Culinary Arts classroom, teacher Tracy Pomerenki was supervising students who were making breakfasts to sell to their classmates – the money raised helps pay for field trips. One young man was carefully pouring batter onto a griddle, while another was frying up sausages. Next door in the Visual Arts classroom, Megan Graham was teaching a student how to use paint to make shadows while others worked independently on their own canvases. A new arrival at the school was working on MCAS prep in Julio Sanchez‘s math class, while students in ELA and history classes often had 1:1 support from a teacher or assistant.

McKinley Prep provides a variety of counseling services to these “at risk” teenagers. One young woman told me she attends three classes offered by Boston University’s Recovery Education Program; she is a senior and hopes to study early childhood education at BU after graduation. Like teachers everywhere, McKinley staff say “the kids” when asked what they like best about their school. Veteran teacher Tonia Owens offers a class called “Strategies for Success” to help students gain critical life skills. She and other staff members appreciate the opportunity to develop relationships that enable their students to meet daunting personal challenges. When asked what other schools can learn from the McKinley, ELA teacher Dan Kelley talked about the need to pay more attention to the social/emotional needs of students. Amen!


Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.