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Failure is Not an Option

Generations of Dartmouth alumni are turning lives around at new Boston charter school

From teachers, tutors, and volunteers, to the school's new principal, there are signs of Dartmouth everywhere at MATCH—a new Boston school whose purpose is to transform young people on the verge of failure into college—bound high school seniors. Students from public schools in the Boston area arrive at MATCH with failing grades and low assessment scores. But, after four years, they graduate with high grades, new skills, confidence, and acceptance letters to four-year colleges. This is the goal that Principal Jorge Miranda '01 concentrates on with laser-like focus and the transformative experience to which everyone at MATCH is committed.

MATCH
Dartmouth alumni gathered at the MATCH School in October. Back row from left: Arun Palakurthy '02, Lowell Richards '69, Brianna Dusseault '00, MATCH Principal Jorge Miranda '01, Molly Stutzman Miranda '02, Yanlin Lui '02, Elizabeth Huston '02. Front Row from left: Nels Armstrong '71, MATCH Geometry Teacher Tony Luckett '01, Jesse Foote '01. (photo by Laurel Stavis)

"I don't know of any other school of its kind," says Miranda. After teaching mathematics at the school for three years, Miranda became principal in July 2006. "We're strict, we have rules and academic rigor, but what makes it work is that everyone is committed to forming relationships with students." He adds that while teachers recognize the obstacles students have struggled with in the past, they are committed to changing their futures. "The reality is less than 5 percent of students from urban, underprivileged backgrounds will graduate from college," Miranda explains. "It's our job to help change that. If that means packing in seven or eight years of education into four years, that's what we have to do."

The success of the seven-year-old school is due to an educational environment based on individual attention, meaningful relationships, rigorous academics, non-negotiable rules, and the MATCH Corps—a dedicated throng of tutors. Members of the Corps work with five students each throughout their one-year assignments and, in a unique twist, many live right there on the third floor of the school. Shantel Layne, a MATCH sophomore, works with Kate Nugent '06. "She finds a balance between teaching and having fun," says Layne, "and she's helping me be a better student." Nugent, one of several Dartmouth graduates who have been MATCH Corps tutors, says "It's a lot of work, but it's incredible." How much work? MATCH students get two hours of tutoring every day and sophomores receive 100 weekend hours throughout the year. Other Dartmouth graduates who have served in the corps include Tara Kyle '04, Bryant Ho '05, and Brian Burgess '05.

Small classes, a college preparatory curriculum, and efficiency are also MATCH priorities. Geometry teacher Tony Luckett '01 says, "Our students are below grade level in literacy, writing, and math. There's no time to waste." Luckett times his students with a stopwatch and measures their comprehension at the end of every class. "They know I will do what it takes to make sure they master the material," he says.

Results so far have been nothing short of extraordinary. In the past two years, every student in the 10th grade passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests in mathematics and English. And not only did they pass-last year they ranked sixth out of 337 high schools in the state for the MCAS in mathematics. All of the school's seniors take advanced placement courses and two humanities classes at neighboring Boston University, and every student in MATCH's first three graduating classes—2004, 2005, and 2006—has been accepted into a four-year college. Miranda says that getting students into college is what the school is all about. "My Dartmouth experience changed my life," he says. "So I know firsthand what that's like." Visibly brightening, he says that admissions counselors from Dartmouth came to meet with some of his students this fall. "The other colleges are great, really great. But this is Dartmouth."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08