Community Academy (CA) is a very small alternative school in Jamaica Plain, enrolling fewer than 50 students in grades 9-12 as the school year begins. Designed as a setting for students who have struggled in traditional settings, it offers personalized support – social/emotional as well as academic – for each student. Spanish/ELL teacher Carmen Alvarez appreciates the opportunity for “authentic conversations” with her students.

In the first class I visit, PE and Wellness teacher Michael Massey sits on the floor with his students, surrounded by weights and other exercise equipment, engaging them in a conversation about the importance of breathing. One of his students tells me, “Mostly, we’re learning to respect and pay attention to our bodies.” Michael and his students are available to lead Wellness Seminars for staff retreats, should your school be interested!

Across the hall students in Chris McLaughlin‘s math class use a computer program to work on graphing equations. Chris has been at CA for 20 years and says he sees himself in a lot of his students. Due to a high rate of absenteeism, he and his colleagues often individualize instruction to meet their students’ needs. He also recommends “Mindful Moment” spaces in classrooms for students to take a break as needed.

Jorge Garcia‘s humanities class is reading and learning to analyze poetry, many working independently while he helps those who need extra support. Head of School Sonie Felix greets a student arriving mid-morning with a warm welcome, a question about his well-being, and a reminder to stay focused. Junior Nailah Fils gives me a tour of the lush school garden, created by students during summers and after school with financial support from a “Communities of Care” grant.

The Community Academy family comes together every Friday to recommit to core values, share announcements and acknowledgements – even a weekly “Rock Star” award for a staff member.

How does your school build community?


Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D

I was in math class working on an “input/output” program. I am learning how to plot equations on a graph.

~ Kayden B, Grade 12

I’m talking with Ms. Felix in the hallway. My most interesting class this year is Spanish, and I’m getting it! I’m looking forward to being able to talk with and understand more people by the end of the year. The most important thing I’ve learned here is that having a hard background doesn’t have to stop me from achieving my goals.

 ~ Anderson Withers, Grade 12

We are in Wellness class and Mr. Massey is talking about how important breathing is. We’ve learned that deep breathing calms you when you’re panicked or stressed.  Mostly, we’re learning to respect and pay attention to our bodies. For example, when you’re stretching, you need to listen to your body to know how far you should go.

~ David Castillo & Mason Withers, Grade 12

I was looking at one of the plants that has been growing in our school garden for two years. I’ve learned that gardens need to be maintained, not just planted. I’ve also learned to stay focused and assume responsibility; seeing things grow calms me and has helped me grow, too! 

~ Nailah Fils, Grade 11

We were solving problems in our Integrated Math class with Ms. Jackson. We’re learning how to solve equations with exponents: which part of the equation to tackle first and how to combine like terms to simplify the process. It’s not always what it seems at first!

~ Kobe Watson & Colin Hickson, Grade 12

I was reading a poem about the Civil war in Humanities class. We are learning to analyze poetry for its message and background. I’ve learned to use evidence from the text and reasoning to support my understanding. 

~ Kiara Montalvo, Grade 10