By Seth Daniel
On June 10, more than 20 students from Seacoast High School will walk across the stage with a high school diploma and a future ahead of them that wouldn’t exist had it not been for the district’s flourishing alternative program.
“We’ll have 20 kids graduating this year that wouldn’t have graduated at all, and they all have MCAS diplomas,” said Seacoast Principal Tom Misci. “It’s no gimme. They all earned those diplomas like any other high school student…If Seacoast wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have those diplomas, and they would have just been lost in society.”
That was the case for decades – as students who had trouble with traditional high school, had attendance problems or had difficult family/life issues – frequently fell through the cracks and were never able to pick up the pieces. Sometimes that setback lasted their entire lives.
Seacoast was launched in 2000 after being a much smaller program within the high school. Now, it’s a separate school and accommodates about 125 students. They have their own entrance, their own yearbook and their own awards ceremonies. Kids are assigned to Seacoast for a variety of reasons, including domestic issues, attendance problems, school phobia, past academic failures or being involved in the court system.
Despite those problems, students at Seacoast have made tremendous gains on the MCAS test – having the most improved score statewide on the English test a few years ago – and having one Adams Scholar in this year’s class (Adams Scholars get free tuition to any state college or university).
However, despite all of the school’s gains, Seacoast suffers from a bad image in the community.
Many parents and community members see the alternative school as a place to house kids who are criminals or have serious self-control issues. That belief comes out of the school’s past. In the beginning, most of the students had very serious problems. It was the nature of the demographic, and the school was a last resort rather than an alternative path.
Nowadays, though, students at Seacoast are more likely to be working on the school newsletter in the journalism class or working online to recover lost course credits so they can graduate on time.
“I want people to see the place as an option,” said Misci. “I would like people to realize that Seacoast isn’t a sentence. It’s a prescription for helping the students in Revere regain their academic standing and composure…There are a lot of kids who get their high school diploma and move on successfully. The staff is like a family, and they talk about everything. They share ideas and they do discuss particular students…In a nutshell, the place is a good school for students who are presently having difficulty in high school.”
He added that the negative opinion does hurt some of his top students, who have found Seacoast as a legitimate path for success.
“There are a good 25 percent of the students that are really hurt by it, and they speak out frequently about that,” he said.
Veteran Seacoast teacher David Tick, who holds his students to a rigorous writing curriculum, said the school has changed, which has been noticeably apparent in students.
“When Seacoast began, we focused primarily on behavioral management because of the population we served,” said Tick. “During the past few years, Seacoast has become a school that has produced a very high MCAS pass rate and become less concerned with only behavioral issues. That being said, our new behavioral system has been highly successful.”
As Tick alluded to the school’s success, Misci said despite a turn for the better, behavioral issues are still on the radar screen at Seacoast, running a close second to attendance issues.
Most of that, he said, has to do with maturity. Some kids respond to Seacoast’s tough love and smaller classrooms much more quickly than others. Sometimes, that delayed response can be out of stubbornness, but other times it can be a product of a hard family life or other problems outside of school – which is one of the inherent challenges in the school.
“They need to be responsible for everything, and we try to relate this to the real world,” said Misci. “Say they’re driving a car sometime in the future and they get pulled over by a police officer. They might think they didn’t do anything wrong, but the police officer may not agree. They need to be able to deal with that.
“We try desperately to teach that,” he continued. “Some kids get it and with some, it takes longer. Generally speaking, the students that become more successful are the ones that are the most mature. That happens at 16 for some and at 18 for others. We just want it to happen before they leave.”
To drive home an expectation for behavior and consequences for misbehaving, Seacoast administrators have implemented a new, four-step rewards system.
Students who don’t misbehave, who are on time for school/class and who handle situations correctly get certain perks, one of which is being able to go on field trips, while another is being first in the lunch line. Finally, another perk for the best students is early dismissal on Fridays.
“We have to address the issues they have that made them come here,” said Misci. “They have to improve their conduct to get to the upper levels. We all expect them to conquer the problems they’re having so we can avoid further consequences.”
Tick added, “You notice the high level students now, and they do take on a leadership role for school functions and benefits, and they’re definitely the ones that will be graduating, and some will be going on to college.”
All in all, with Seacoast’s transformation, the district’s alternative program, is truly taking kids who – in the past – pulled disappearing acts, and have, instead, now moved on to the next act.