Going to College In High School: Wentworth - Boston Partnership Preps City Teens for Post-Secondary Success

February 25, 2019

“It’s a tripod,” says Erik Miller. “We’re exposing them to the academic rigors of STEM, preparing them for social challenges, and providing financial support to get in and through college.”

The “it” he’s referring to is Beacon Pathways, an innovative education partnership between the City of Boston and Wentworth Institute of Technology to embed youngsters in the college experience while they are still in high school. The goal is to increase attendance, retention, and graduation rates of Boston youth by showing them that they can succeed in college and beyond.

The program is intended to close the opportunity gap, in education and work, for Boston public high school juniors and seniors, motivating them to pursue STEM degrees and careers. Beacon Pathways is also meant to provide local computer science and construction management corporations with the trained workers they seek to match up with employment demands around Boston.

Designed with traditionally underrepresented groups of students in mind, Pathways is free for participants, with Wentworth, foundations, and corporate sponsors funding the initiative. Participating students take classes on Wentworth’s campus, simultaneously meeting some high school graduation requirements and earning college credits through hands-on coursework.

The program’s pilot group of five high schoolers began studying at Wentworth at the start of the spring 2019 semester—three in computer science and two in construction management. Five weeks into it, Pablo Ruiz and John Boland, both 17, said they are grateful for the opportunity but also have begun to understand the challenges and responsibilities that come with it. These include homework and dealing with the freedom of choice that isn’t there in high school but is present in the college environment.

Adding to his load, Ruiz is also working at Wentworth part-time with STRIVE, short for Supported Training to Reach Independence through Vocational Experiences, a celebrated program that in April will mark 30 years of providing meaningful work opportunities for young people in the city.

“Beacon Pathways provides a hands-on experience for these students,” says Miller, who directs Wentworth’s Center for Community and Learning Partnerships. “Little by little, they’re learning about dynamic fields of study in STEM, careers in the fields, and the challenges and opportunities that those environments present.”

The Pathways program joins CLP’s other initiatives in an education-to-jobs pipeline for traditionally underrepresented public-school students in Boston. Miller said the Pathways characteristics set it apart from other advancement initiatives—its focus on underrepresented students; authentic, in-classroom college enrollment with credits; university-business funding model; and the win-win employment potential of connecting businesses looking for well-educated and trained, local workers.

 “It was never in my head that I’d be taking college classes in high school,” said Ruiz, who lives with his family in Dorchester and attends Madison Park Vocational Technical High School. He is taking a construction management class that meets two days a week for nearly three hours per-session. Interested in blueprints and learning how to read them, Ruiz said he is using the Pathways opportunity to explore becoming an engineer.

“I think this will give me a better chance of seeing what I want to do,” said Boland, who lives in West Roxbury and attends Dearborn STEM Academy, Wentworth’s other Pathways partner. Boland is taking a computer science class three times a week, also for about three hours per-session.

Miller said the program’s organizers have big plans for Beacon Pathways. They hope to enroll nearly 250 students through the initiative in its first five years.

--Dennis Nealon

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