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Mother Caroline aims to teach whole family

Victoria Cheng | 6/12/2008, 5:12 a.m.
A group of students pose in front of the Mother Caroline Academy and Educational Center billboard, originally placed on Gallivan Boulevard and now located near the Boston Medical Center. The school, funded in large part by corporate and individual donations, relies on contributions like this — the billboard space was donated by advertising and media giant Clear Channel. This past March, the MBTA also donated space for Mother Caroline signs on local buses and trains. Mother Caroline Academy

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A group of students pose in front of the Mother Caroline Academy and Educational Center billboard, originally placed on Gallivan Boulevard and now located near the Boston Medical Center. The school, funded in large part by corporate and individual donations, relies on contributions like this — the billboard space was donated by advertising and media giant Clear Channel. This past March, the MBTA also donated space for Mother Caroline signs on local buses and trains.

Just up the hill from the shops and restaurants of Grove Hall’s Mecca Mall sits a well-kept, beige-brick community mecca of a different kind: Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center.

Founded in 1993 to provide access to a high quality education for low-income middle school girls, the academy — which has a student body of 63 students, mostly hailing from Dorchester and Roxbury — also prides itself on the classes and activities it offers to the girls’ families and to the rest of the surrounding neighborhood.

“A lot of our girls are children of immigrants,” explained Ingrid Tucker, the academy’s president. “It’s great to educate the girls, but if the families don’t know how to speak English, there’s [an instructional hurdle]: You can’t really make a huge difference in the lives of the girls because it’s like they’re living in two worlds.”

The school branched into adult education soon after it opened. Now, while the students themselves tackle a rigorous curriculum and enrichment activities ranging from lacrosse to ice skating, their parents can take English as a second language, as well as computer and GED classes at the school’s adult education center.

Third and fourth-grade boys and girls — often siblings of Mother Caroline students — also participate in school life, attending an after-school program called Shining Star that features classes emphasizing literacy and mathematical skills.

“What started off as a school for girls has turned into a school for families,” Tucker said. “How we are in the community has been really important to us also … We look at ourselves as a place that helps transform the lives of the community members.”

To that end, adult education classes are not limited to students’ family members, but are also available to adult learners in the surrounding neighborhood. Of the 177 adult students currently enrolled, Tucker estimated that about 45 are student family members, which she said makes for a “good balance” between supporting students and building local connections.

When those connections blossom, they can exponentially strengthen ties between the students and the school. When Meagan McIntosh started fifth grade at Mother Caroline earlier this year, her younger sister joined the Shining Star program a few weeks later. In January, her parents, Tyrone and Carol Ann, both began adult education classes. Tyrone is now enrolled in the Cambridge College program available on-site at the academy.