It has been more than two years since I’ve been able to visit schools, and I feel grateful to the BTU for the opportunity to continue creating and sharing my “We’re Learning Here” series with all of you! I hope you will invite me to visit YOUR school!
We’re Learning Here: NOVEMBER 2022
Dearborn STEM Academy
by Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.
At the beginning of this school year I was thrilled to visit Dearborn STEM Academy (DSA), located in the heart of Roxbury, a few blocks from Nubian Square. Opened in the fall of 2018, DSA serves 580 students in grades 6-12. Registrar Hakim Johnson, a student of mine at the Blackstone Elementary School many years ago, gave me a warm welcome and a tour of this spacious, light-filled, state-of-the-art building.
I was surprised that the cafeteria, on the ground floor, is in the center of the 4-story open space. Wide stairways lead to classrooms above, situated mostly along short “wings” radiating away from the center. On reflection, I think the very openness of the space helps maintain order, as students are always visible to adults throughout the building.
My visit started on the top floor, where most of the middle school classes are held and math teacher Luis Bonilla was helping his seventh graders with a pre-algebra assignment. In Carmen Medina-Silva‘s inviting ESL/SLIFE class, students in grades 6-8 with limited formal education were learning how to pronounce long and short vowels in our challenging non-phonetic language! DSA has a substantial population of recent immigrants from Cape Verde.
In her ninth grade African American Studies class, Sentidra Joseph was encouraging students to share whether they identify as “Black” or “African American”. One of her students later told me, “We start each class with a question or a quote to discuss, which I like because it gets you thinking a lot!” In Rachel Barlage‘s AP ELA class, tenth graders were engaged in a fishbowl discussion of excerpts from memoirs by Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X on how they each learned to read and write. She observed: “I was really impressed by their insights and by their ability to engage in a fully student-led discussion so early in the year.” So was I!
Every classroom at DSA is fully equipped with technology to support instruction, and every student has a laptop. Each ninth grader selects a STEM-related career pathway to follow throughout high school: Computer Science, Engineering, or Health & Life Science. In their Anatomy class with Sandra Nunes, seniors were reading an online article about the body’s resistance to antibiotics. One of the students explained that all her core classes — ELA, Social Issues, and Science — connect to her chosen pathway, and an end of year project brings them all together.
David Moreno, a seventh grade inclusion teacher, says what he likes best about Dearborn STEM Academy is that “kids feel safe” here. This was echoed by a newly arrived seventh grader, who told me: “I like the building, the kind teachers, and the positive atmosphere.”