The William Monroe Trotter Innovation School serves 400+ students, K-6, with plans for expanding to 8th grade over the next couple of years. Built in 1969, its unusual design consists of five interconnected two-story buildings stretched along Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury. Classrooms in each hexagon-shaped pod surround a sunken central area, where grade level gatherings and small group instruction take place.

The first thing I noticed was a bulletin board outside the office listing grade-level “Journeys of Learning” – with second-semester themes such as The Power of Puppets (K2), The Rainforest (Grade 2), and The Civil Rights Movement & Desegregation in Boston (Grade 5). I was delighted to learn that teacher-developed interdisciplinary units are an integral part of instruction at the Trotter!

Michael Allwood, one of only two Family and Community Outreach Coordinators left in BPS, was my guide through the school. Joanne Douglas‘s third grade classroom was packed with Calla Freeman‘s kindergarteners, reading aloud with their third grade buddies. Classes throughout the school seemed to focus primarily on literacy during the morning and, of course, PARCC testing. It’s become nearly impossible to visit a school these days without some kind of standardized test interrupting teaching and learning.

Retired teacher Mary Smoyer, who volunteers regularly at the Trotter, proudly showed off the drawings Lisa Caldas’ K2 students had made of the daffodils beginning to bloom in the outdoor classroom area. Kindergarteners had planted 200 bulbs last fall, as part of their Tools unit, with help from Big and Little Sisters program volunteers.

Art teacher David Egan had his fifth grade students working on small squares that would be put together to create a portrait of Rosa Parks. In one second grade class every student had bright yellow earphones, which several students used to cut down on the distractions around them as they worked.

The Trotter has a unique partnership with Boston University instructors and their students, who use three rooms in one of the pods for their classes. Under the supervision of BU Professor Don DaRosa and BPS science teacher Brenda Richardson, college students were leading a lesson and working with small groups of third graders as they examined water evaporation data they’d collected around the school. What a wonderful opportunity for all involved!

Alma Wright, an award-winning teacher who has been at the school since it opened 45 years ago, says: “I like the resilience and perseverance of the students at the Trotter.” Students are always the #1 reason teachers stay committed to our public schools despite all the challenges. “We’re Learning Here” celebrates the work you do every day and gives voice to your students – please invite me to visit your school!

Happy Spring!


Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.