On Wednesday evening, I joined a group of about two dozen students for an unusual Zoom call. Half were high schoolers from BUA, half fifth and sixth graders from Alexander Twilight Academy (ATA). It was the start of something really beautiful.

Named for the first Black American to graduate college in the United States, ATA is an afternoon and summer enrichment program serving academically promising middle school students from under-resourced backgrounds, most of whom live in the City of Boston. Through afternoon programming during the school year and focused work in the summers, ATA “prepares middle school students to earn admission to and thrive at the nation’s top high schools” and makes a commitment to serve those students and families through college and beyond. 

For a few years, ATA has used BUA’s classroom spaces in the summer to run its programming. Now we’re taking this partnership to a new level.

The meeting I visited was the start of a weekly, one-on-one tutoring program pairing BUA and ATA students. Guided by ATA director Annie Weinberg, the pairs spent time in breakout rooms getting to know one another through exercises like sharing the story of their names: Who gave them that name? Why? What does in mean? I was touched when the students returned from those breakout rooms and recounted the stories they heard from their BUA or ATA buddies. They smiled at the chance coincidences and the growing bonds. Over the coming months, these pairs will meet after school for virtual academic tutoring sessions in language arts, math, and coding.

Great, sustained partnerships are mutually beneficial. I know that the ATA students will find more than just academic support; their BUA buddies will be role models, mentors, and hopefully lifelong friends. I know that our BUA students will get far more than community service hours. As every teacher knows, there is deep growth and fulfillment that comes from sharing what you know and helping somebody else along on their path. This kind of connection teaches us empathy and opens our eyes to experiences beyond our own.

This is just the start. There is so much mission alignment between our two organizations. Annie and I envision ATA students enrolling at BUA one day soon; BUA alumni serving as college and career mentors to ATA graduates; BUA students running summer enrichment units with ATA students; joint professional development and conversation with our teachers; and more. 

More broadly, I see this as one piece of a larger strategy: harnessing one of our greatest resources — the City of Boston. How can we use the city as our classroom? How can it inform our curriculum? What opportunities are there for place-based learning and internships? How can we be a partner to the city? How can our connection to Boston help us live out our mission commitment to excellence and access? 

What can we be if we fully embrace the first word in our name: Boston.

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