School Choice & Charters

Boston Academy to Offer ‘Prep’ for Top High Schools

By Jessica L. Tonn — March 22, 2005 3 min read
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A private school set to open in Boston this summer will provide 8th graders with rigorous classes and enriching activities to prepare them to attend the area’s most competitive high schools.

Beacon Academy will enroll 20 students in its first year, which will begin July 1. The academy’s school year will extend through the fall, winter, spring and following summer, ending in August 2006.

During that time, students will study the core subjects of English, mathematics, science, and history. They also will be required to engage in supplemental activities of their choice—from piano lessons and musical theater to squash and lacrosse.

The program’s goal, organizers of the school say, is to expose students from low-income families to the advantages enjoyed by other students vying for admission to top private and public high schools.

“We want our students to begin to see themselves and develop themselves as intellectuals,” said Marsha Feinberg, the co-chairwoman of the board of directors.

After taking part in some 2,000 hours of instruction and activities, students at Beacon Academy should be prepared for making the social transition from public schooling to elite or competitive institutions as 9th graders, founders of the school say.

Cindy Laba, the founder and head of school at Beacon Academy, decided to start the school last year after noticing that many freshmen who entered Boston’s City on a Hill Charter School, where she served as vice president, were struggling and needed an additional year to graduate.

“Why not do a great postgrad year after middle school, to get them ready for the independent-school experience?” she said.

Ms. Laba was not aware of any other schools in the country that offer an accelerated 8th grade year to prepare students for independent and public exam high schools.

Long Days

To gain entrance to Beacon Academy, students must be nominated by an adult who can testify to their academic strength and character, and then undergo a lengthy admissions process.

The school is recruiting students from two sources. Independent schools are referring students who did not gain admission this year, but who could be viable candidates after additional academic preparation. Nonprofit organizations in the Boston area that work with urban youth are also recommending potential applicants.

School officials hope the admissions process will emulate the demanding year the students will face at Beacon Academy: school days from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and half-day programs on Saturdays, over the course of 36 weeks.

Two teachers will be hired to instruct the students, one for math and science, and another for English and history. Students will have about 4½ hours of classroom time daily, and between two and three hours of homework, according to Robert Greene, the coordinator of the school’s curriculum and the co-chairman of its board of directors.

Although not as expensive as traditional preparatory schools, Beacon Academy will not be completely free for students. Students and their families will be expected to contribute between $500 and $1,000 for the year of schooling. Mr. Greene estimates that the actual cost of the education each students receives will be about $25,000.The total operating budget for the school’s first year will be $500,000, all of which will be generated from private donations.

Partnerships will be a crucial part of the school’s success, both this year and beyond, said Ms. Laba.

Temple Israel, located in the Fenway section of Boston, is donating space for classrooms, starting in the fall. The neighboring Simmons and Wheelock colleges, in addition to providing student volunteers as tutors and mentors, will open their libraries to Beacon Academy students.

Simmons will also provide classroom space for the school this summer.

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