The Achieve Program at Noble and Greenough School

October 2016 Member Spotlight: The Achieve Program at Noble and Greenough School

achieve-logo

SNAPSHOT:

Elevator Speech: The Achieve Program (“Achieve”) at Noble and Greenough School (“Nobles”) is a school-based, non-profit organization that provides academic and social enrichment through summer and academic year (Saturday) programming to selected, motivated students in grades 6-12 from Boston Public Schools (BPS) who qualify for federal free or reduced lunch. Achieve is housed at Nobles in Dedham, MA, and represents a unique private and public school partnership between Nobles and BPS to best serve the greater Boston community. The program was founded in 2007, and currently serves over 160 students from 30 BPS schools located in communities such as Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, Roslindale, Charlestown, and East Boston. Achieve scholars are motivated, resilient, and thoughtful. Currently 98% are students of color, 89% will be first generation college students, and 70% speak a second language at home.

NPEA Member Type: Organizational Member
Interviewee: Nora Dowley-Liebowitz, Executive Director
Contact Information: nliebowitz0f@nobles.edu, (781) 320-7125
Location(s): Dedham, MA
Year Founded: 2007
Staffing: 3 FTE, 80 volunteers (primarily tutors), and 25 paid summer staff.
Students Served: Achieve serves more than 160 students in grades 6-12 annually.
“About Us”: Our Program, Who We Are, Staff, Impact, Middle School, Graduate Services
Get Involved: Contact Us, Jobs, Partnerships, Events, Get Involved
Main Website: http://www.theachieveprogram.org/
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram


INTERVIEW:

Click on the links below to learn more, or scroll down to read the full interview.

Q: Please provide a brief overview of your organization, The Achieve Program at Noble and Greenough School.
A: The Achieve Program (“Achieve”) at Noble and Greenough School (“Nobles”) is a school-based, non-profit organization that provides academic and social enrichment through summer and academic year (Saturday) programming to selected, motivated students in grades 6-12 from Boston Public Schools (BPS) who qualify for federal free or reduced lunch. Achieve is housed at Nobles in Dedham, MA, and represents a unique private and public school partnership between Nobles and BPS to best serve the greater Boston community. The program was founded in 2007, and currently serves over 160 students from 30 BPS schools located in communities such as Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, Roslindale, Charlestown, and East Boston. Achieve scholars are motivated, resilient, and thoughtful. Currently 98% are students of color, 89% will be first generation college students, and 70% speak a second language at home.

Achieve scholars are selected during their 6th grade year in cohorts of 25-30 students and begin programming the following summer as rising 7th graders. In the summers these scholars take English, math, and science courses alongside electives like swimming and book club. Scholars are also provided with nutritious meals, participate in field trips, and hear from motivational role models through a speaker series. During the academic year, middle school students participate in Saturday programming focused on civic engagement and character building, as well as a traditional study hall to work with volunteer tutors on homework. Eighth grade scholars spend their afternoons working with individual coaches to determine which schools they might attend for high school. Achieve focuses on finding the right “fit” for each student; only 20-25% of the scholars apply to placement schools each year, while the majority of students focus on attending public schools with college-going rates for their graduates of more than 85%, which Achieve helps to research, partner with, and identify for students. Once in high school, Achieve staff visits every student on their campuses and supports them through routine communication. Back to top.

Q: Please share a little more about the history of Achieve, as well as its future plans. What significant events and/or people have shaped the mission and goals of your organization?
A: Achieve was founded at Noble and Greenough School in 2007. As Nobles was finishing a process of reviewing its mission, the school community adopted the mantra “leadership for the public good.” People began to ask, ‘are we actually doing this, and/or could we do it better?’ Bob Henderson and Ben Snyder (then Head of School and Head of Upper School, respectively), echoed this question, and ultimately they were instrumental in getting The Achieve Program off the ground. In addition, seed money from a local foundation helped Achieve to get up and running financially. Since then, Cat Kershaw and George Maley of the Nobles development team have helped Achieve to secure significant funds for a growing endowment. There are many, many other individuals, foundations and corporations that have been critical to Achieve’s success, including all of our parents, staff, and scholars.

During the first summer Achieve hosted ten students on campus. Ten years later, we are now at full capacity serving 80 students/year. Nobles maintains its commitment to the success of this program, and it is important to note that 75 Nobles students serve as volunteer tutors in our program throughout the school year.

Regarding future plans, Achieve will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2017. During this year we hope to raise enough funds to fully endow our program. This will also be the first year that we have seniors in high school, and so we will be very focused on supporting them through the college research and application processes. The big next step is growth. Our advisory board will spend the year discussing and strategizing around what sustainable growth might look like for Achieve. We wrote a strategic plan in 2015 that has been guiding our development efforts, so we will continue revisit that as well. Back to top.

Q: NPEA is committed to creating a culture of data with and for its members through NPEA Data Counts. In what ways does Achieve currently use data to inform decisions and programming?
A: 
Achieve is a data driven organization. We participated in NPEA Data Counts last year, and plan to complete the 2016 NPEA Data Collection Tool this year. We also use the STAR test to measure the skill level growth and development of our students. We give this test to our students as pre- and post-assessments every summer session. In addition, we are partners with Boston After School and Beyond (BASB), and they administer several qualitative and quantitative surveys to measure the social-emotional health and growth of our students. The PEAR survey is the most effective as it measures the impact Achieve has on skills like a student’s comfort in raising his or her hand or public speaking in class. BASB also provides us with a programmatic observation and evaluation once per year. We also collect all reports cards from our current students and graduates. Our graduates are tracked rigorously, including attendance rates, grades, test scores, and engagement in school. Currently we use Excel and Google Drive to store and analyze much of this data, as well as resources provided by BASB (such as the PRISM Report). Back to top.

Q: With regard to partnerships and collaborations, how has Achieve developed partnerships with other schools, college access programs, organizations, universities, and others to further the organization’s work?
A: Our strongest partnerships are with Nobles, BASB, and BPS. Nobles provides us with an incredible amount of in-kind resources, including space, staff support, and more. BASB provides us with a significant amount of support in assessment and data tracking (as discussed above). BPS is a partnership that has grown over time, in particular through the superintendent’s office elevating the awareness of our program and its opportunities. Lastly, our graduates are supported through many of our college access partners, including Bottom Line, Summer Search, and Minds Matter.

Please email nliebowitz0f@nobles.edu if you are interested in learning more about becoming a community or school partner. Back to top.

Q: What challenges, if any, has your organization encountered in doing college access work? What has your organization learned from these experiences?
A: Like any educational access nonprofit, we have encountered many challenges, but they have always served to make our program stronger in the long run.

Financially, foundation, corporate grants, and/or sponsorships are routinely a challenge for us to secure, as oftentimes it is hard to effectively communicate our program’s need around its relationship to Nobles. However, we have improved significantly in our work with these critical groups. In addition, our very small budget has presented some challenges around transportation, and we continually strive to be more accessible to all students in the city of Boston.

Programmatically, we have to work hard to make sure our students truly represent all types of schools in Boston, and not solely relying on charter or Tier 1 schools where our outreach is often more easily heard. It is also difficult to determine and maintain what the capacity of program really is, as there is so much need in the city and so many wonderful students. This year we turned away over 85 qualified students, which did not feel good. We know that growth will continue to be a unique challenge for us. In running our programming, we also want to do better at recruiting and particularly at retaining the very best teachers for our summer academic enrichment, which we know is a “big ask” related to teachers’ time. Lastly, it is a constant learning process to ensure that all of our students find the high school that is the right “fit” for them academically, socially, and financially.

Our biggest overall challenge by far, though, is sustainability and knowing our limits as a staff and program. With a staff of four people (and really 3 FTE), we have to determine what we can do well and what we should leave to other organizations (especially those with whom we can partner). This coming year we have our first class of high school seniors, which puts this question squarely in front us as we all start to work hard in supporting them getting to and through college. We need to continue to determine our primary “niche” function, what we can and cannot do, and address any gaps in our programming. These are tough questions and we are committed to working on them both as a staff and with input from our community (students, families, volunteers, and so on). Back to top.

Q: Please provide a brief summary of how you came to be the Executive Director at Achieve. What insights have you gained from your professional trajectory?
A: I started my career as a teacher in Washington, DC Public Schools. I had earned my teaching certification as an undergraduate at Bowdoin College, which was less common then. In retrospect I think a good next step for me would have been to go through a program that provided mentorship and support for first year teachers, but I did not explore any of those options because at the time I was almost too proud of all I had already learned as an undergraduate. I did know that I wanted to go where the need was great, so I took a job at a struggling school in D.C. and immersed myself in the work. In many ways, this was one of the hardest times of my life, but it was also the most significant and influential. Again, since I did not have a program like Teach for America, City Year, or AmeriCorps supporting me, and I quickly realized that on my own I was not learning to teach well. I decided to work at an independent school in Virginia for two years in order to learn how to teach, but I promised myself that somehow I would return to working with low-income, first generation to college students. In the summers I started helping with an Upward Bound program at Wesleyan University, and that is when it clicked for me. I became obsessed with college access, and decided to pursue my Ed.M. degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) in Prevention Science and Practice (PSP).

After I graduated, I worked as the Director of College and Alumni Persistence at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, MA. In that role, I learned the importance of data, especially for tracking progress and providing the best long-term support for first generation students. I decided I wanted to be at a place that intervened earlier, and then through a connection at Nobles I learned about the opening at Achieve. When I came to Achieve, there was no graduate support program, so we basically wished our graduates well as they entered high school. I knew our scholars needed more wrap-around resources, so I grew our staff and started such a program to ensure our students’ long-term success.

If I had to give advice, it would be:

  • Be bold and ask for support: I have learned never to be afraid to ask for anything. People, organizations, and companies are extraordinarily generous. And the worst they can say is no, which they—or the few of them who do—often say kindly.
  • Keep students at the center of your work: never lose sight of whom you are serving and empowering. That will keep your program grounded and effective.
  • Know the value of partnerships: Achieve would not function without Nobles or BPS, and we would not be nearly as effective without BASB. In addition, our graduates are doing amazing work all over the globe thanks to our college access partners! Back to top.

Q: How has your organization benefited from membership in NPEA?
A: The NPEA annual conference is AMAZING. It is easily the best conference I attend each year. I also enjoy the newsletter with articles, best practices, program updates, and calls for support highlighted. In addition, the regional events have been hugely helpful for networking and learning. Lastly, we participated in NPEA Data Counts last year, and plan to complete the 2016 NPEA Data Collection Tool this year. Back to top.