There was a time when students that were shipped off to an alternative high school for behavioral issues, poor grades or other underperforming issues bore a scarlet letter for their inability to thrive in a traditional high school setting.
Revere’s only alternative high school, Seacoast, was no different and there was a saying to students in the city that if they didn’t get their acts together they’d end up a Seacoast as if the school was more of a prison than an educational institution.
That’s not the case anymore and Seacoast Principal Dr. Stacey Mulligan, who began at the school last year, is disproving the myths surrounding alternative education and rebranding her school’s reputation to one of punishment to one of academic success.
“I want to dispel the misconceptions of what Seacoast is really about,” said Dr. Mulligan. “Last year was my first year here as principal and I spent the year just kind of observing what the school was all about. Coming in I had no knowledge at all of what the school was like.”
Mulligan, who has been in education for over 20 years said alternative education over the years has had a lot of different definitions.
“Alternative Ed was definitely not what it is today,” she said. “Back then it was basically a place where school districts just housed everybody that just wasn’t cutting it but it’s transformed into something, way, way better than I could have ever imagined.”
Mulligan said within Revere two Seacoasts exist. One is the community perception of Seacoast as a school for trouble makers, flunkies and those who aren’t ‘cutting it’ at Revere High.
“Then there’s the Seacoast of what really goes on in these four walls every day,” said Mulligan. “I think what I want and my goal is to basically tell people what really goes on here. It’s a difficult decision for somebody to have to send their child to an alternative school and if you are just kind of listening to what’s on the streets it makes that decision even harder. You’re first sad because usually if you’re being sent to an alternative school you’ve had years and years of disappointment within the school systems, and you can almost feel like it’s a punishment, being sent here, and that is not at all the reality.”
Since starting last year Mulligan said she’s had so many meetings with parents crying because they almost feel like they’re sending their kids to jail.
“I feel terrible for them because after having so many years of no success in schools and then the end result you feel like they’re sending them away,” she said. “However, once their child gets here and thrives here they are always pleasantly surprised by what we have to offer. I think for me, it’s not necessarily about this rebranding of Seacoast it’s just being able to share with families in the City of Revere that your child is safe here and they’re going to receive a great education, and there’s going to be no harm that comes to them, and that you can relax and be reassured that this is truly another avenue for them to have success in graduating high school.”
As the world has evolved so has education and things like depression, anxiety, problems at home all play a part in a student’s performance. These issues are being addressed more commonly and rapidly than they had been in the past, which leads to more success for students that would have otherwise fallen through the cracks.
“I just want parents to feel safe, because I feel like the longer parents delay these kids, because they are usually students that are under-credited, the more behind in their education they will get.”
While Seacoast gained the reputation as the place students with discipline problems went, Mulligan said 95 percent of the kids are normal teens in many ways but with extraordinary burdens most Straight A students usually don’t have to contend with.
“A lot of our kids are earners in their house and some people just don’t understand that not everybody has this traditional two parent home,” said Mulligan. “There’s a lot of single parent families and the kids work to help pay rent and they need to contribute to their house so they work 40 hours. It’s difficult to work 40 hours and attend school full time as well. So Seacoast is an option for them. We can be more flexible with their schedules if they do need to do that. We have a lot of students with social emotional stuff going on and a lot of anxiety. Revere High School is huge with 2,200 students and when you have a lot of anxiety issues you need a smaller setting. Attendance is the biggest thing more than anything else when it comes to academic success. Kids have a difficult time getting to school, whether it’s a job or whether they’re just totally disengaged from school, and those are really the top issues that we have here.”
Mulligan said last year Seacoast had its best promotion rate in 10 years.
“So 74% of our kids were promoted last year which is huge,” she said. “And that was during a pandemic year so that’s even more astonishing. It was also the first time we’ve ever had a Seacoast graduate speak at the Revere High Graduation, which was amazing.”
Mulligan added that the school is also focusing on building lasting relationships in the city.
“Here at Seacoast, we kind of focus more on relationships more than anything,” she said. “As I said before, the students here have had years and years of just terrible phone calls home with no success at school. So it takes a lot for us to build their confidence again. It’s not that these students are not smart, because honestly most of our kids are brilliant, but their confidence has been ruined. It takes a long time to build those kids back up after having been crushed for years and years. So our teachers spend a lot of time doing work to really build those relationships here. The district has definitely moved towards restorative practices with the students. Seacoast was kind of a leader in the district with that. So, more than half of our staff has already been trained in restorative techniques, the other half will get trained this year and our students are going to start getting trained as well. We’ve had one of the first community gardens in the whole city and our neighbors regularly reap the benefits of our crops out there. We have reestablished our partnership with the Beachmont Improvement Committee to start doing more community service in the city which will be great. Finally, we have a partnership with Cambridge Health Alliance to start doing workshops with our kids to just work with teams on problems that they face whether it’s drug abuse, domestic violence healthy relationships, healthy sexual relationships, so our kids can be on track to becoming healthy young adults.”
So with a lot of great things going on at Seacoast Mulligan said nothing makes her happier than when students say to her, “You know, I wish I hadn’t taken so long to make the switch”.
“That’s the most important thing to me,” said Mulligan. “That the students here are happy and they’re thriving.”