My Dream, My Future

Thanks to the leadership, vision, time, and energy, of two Achieve volunteers, Jane Kringdon and Suzie Montgomery, Achieve launched its inaugural Friday Speaker Series during the summer of 2012. In creating the Speaker Series, our goal was to connect adults from the Greater Boston community with Achieve, and Jane and Suzie were persistent in their quest to identify appropriate people to visit the program and speak about their experiences with school, professional careers, success, and failure.

With both last year’s and this year’s themes, “Write Your Own Story” and “My Dream, My Future,” respectively, we challenged our students to define success and to map out a path that takes them from where they are today to the future they imagine for themselves.

On the first day of Achieve this summer, students were asked to think about their hopes and passions, their dreams and their futures. After brainstorming about goals and the concrete steps that were necessary in order to reach these goals, students identified an object to symbolize each step of their path into the future. Students also wrote short pieces that explained the significance of each object within the bigger picture of their dreams. Students packed these objects and their written pieces into “suitcases” as they prepared to set off on their personal journeys.

Below, we share some of the writing that our students created as part of this project.

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David’s bright future,
is effort, college people,
and books to help me.
Car engines are the things I
would like to study.
Also, the engines would drive
me to a future.

~ David, Pride 5

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I can’t wait to see
a big part of me
my drawing is crazy
and I’m not lazy

No one can stop me
I must pay a small fee
to complete my future

I’ll create the creature
but no one will beat her

~ Devon, Pride 5

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A book,
A pencil,
A computer and graduation cap too,
these are things that represent,
what I want to do.

Have a family is a second plan,
have a husband,
one kid,
a beautiful single family house,
and some cats no doubt.

I will do lots of paintings,
abstract too,
I will sell them,
maybe even to you.

To be an author
you need to express your feelings,
and have a wonderful vocabulary,
also a good imagination to get your mind started,
children’s books,
and teen books I will write,
some might even give people a fright.

What will I do with my future you ask,
well I think I have just started to tell you.

~ Emily, Pride 4

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“The epiphany dawned on me and surfaced, but when it hit me, I was sure. A theoretical physicist, an engineer, science related topics, that could unlock my future. That’s where I would go, using notebooks to go into my thoughts safe and sound. The beaker, holding my passion, and using it to mix my interests.

~Edward, Pride 4

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Music flows within me
my passion, my hope, my dream
my thinking process is simply a melody
a thunderous symphony
a sweet sounding rhythm

my words are keys
these notes I will sing with ease
this joy I hope that the people will see
and feel and touch and love.

~ Diana, Pride 4

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I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. In school, at home, on walls…I love to write. Whether it’s a poem, a song, about me or just a story. I just love to write. Music is also one of my passions. It could be a song I hear on the radio or something I’ve written myself. It’s just something that I can connect with. Fashion is another big chunk of my life. When I was little it was all about matching colors. Now it’s a little different; a little more…me.  I want what I wear to describe me. Whether it’s 4 inch heels, neon green shoelaces or even just a simple t-shirt. I want to be a fashion designer with my own show, write a book, and make at least three songs that everyone knows by heart.

~Rebekah, Pride 4

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Once an Achieve Student, Always an Achieve Student


Gigi, an Achieve Pride 3 student, and current 8th grader at Noble and Greenough School, created this poster as part of an interdisciplinary English/Art project. Love the Achieve shout-out!

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Thank you, tutors!

With the academic year coming to a close, and another round of Saturday sessions in the books, we would like to take a moment to thank our tutors, who dedicated their time, energy, and love to making Achieve a huge success and a valuable experience for our students.

In addition to building new friendships and serving as mentors for the Achieve students, our 59 tutors taught lessons on topics such as reading comprehension and making inferences, writing strong paragraphs, and finding the weight of an igloo that Mr. Nguyen had built in his backyard. During the 2012-2013 academic year, these students collectively volunteered about 855 hours to our program!

In particular, we would like to recognize our graduating seniors, who, through their commitment and dedication to Achieve, formed the core of a very talented group of tutors this year. Those seniors are: Chandler D., Alex D., Maya G., Emily G., Claire G., Sarah H., Jaida J., Emma M., Mary M., Emily M., Casey M., Hannah N., Kim N., Samantha R., Isabella S., Caroline T., Elisielle W., and Ali W. This year, our seniors accounted for about 400 hours of service to Achieve (close to 50% of the total hours volunteered to Achieve!), and over the past several years, they have generously given close to 900 hours of their time to our program and our students.

To our tutors — We would like you to know that you have made a significant difference in our students’ lives, and simply put, you have made our program better. On behalf of the Achieve students and the Achieve program, we would like to thank you for your support.

~ Jody McQuillan and Eric Nguyen

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Achieve Tutor and TA, Casey McQuillan, recognized by Princeton Prize Board

Earlier this month, the Board of the Boston Princeton Prize in Race Relations recognized Casey McQuillan with a Certificate of Accomplishment in recognition for his work with Achieve. This incredible honor speaks to Casey’s dedication and commitment to Achieve and our students. After spending the summer of 2011 as an Intern, Casey has volunteered 60 hours of his time as an Achieve tutor on Saturdays during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years. Last summer, Casey transitioned into the role of a Teaching Assistant in Science during the summer months, a position he will continue this summer.


Casey (center), poses with his certificate alongside Jody McQuillan, Achieve Director of Curriculum (left), and Eric Nguyen, Achieve Acting Director

In his application essay for the Princeton Prize, Casey wrote:

Social progress, understanding, and respect stem from education and experience; prejudice withers away when an individual remains informed and personally interacts with people of different backgrounds. The wide racial spectrum of students, including Haitian, Dominican, African, Cuban, Taiwanese, as well as many others, all from different neighborhoods in Boston come together at Achieve and build long-lasting friendships with one another. Of French and Welsh descent, I contribute my own personality and origin into this racially mixed environment. My volunteer work helps facilitate meaningful connections between students and with students over a mutual interest in education. I do not approach race with a “color-blind position”, but encourage each person to feel pride for their heritage and respect for other’s. When my Current Events club raises local racial issues, I foster a safe environment for the kids to vocalize their opinions on racial violence and discrimination in their communities. My students learn race is not something to be pushed aside nor something to define people by, but an important characteristic of one’s identity and something to take pride in. These students’ personal experiences with other people of different origins and different skin tone deconstruct any racial stereotypes originally held…

In three years, I watch each student enter the program after fifth grade and leave prepared for high school; adolescence proves a critical period of personal development for these students to define their values, ideas, and beliefs. With my close relationship to these students throughout the year, I receive a privileged view of each student’s personal growth while helping them find their passions and pursue their interests. My volunteer work helps transform these students into the people they want to be. In just the three years I have worked with Achieve, I have seen these underperforming students invigorated with a sense of purpose and admitted into some of the top charter and independent schools in the area. Kids who did not know what would be after high school or who never even thought about college suddenly dream of Ivy League schools and doctorate diplomas…

A senior at Westwood High School, Casey will attend Amherst College next fall. Although we will miss his energy, enthusiasm, and leadership during our Saturday sessions, we know that he will continue to make a difference in the lives of other students. Please join us in congratulating Casey on this award, and in wishing him the best of luck as he embarks on this next stage of his academic career!

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Achieve Scholars’ Goals

To follow up on yesterday’s post about setting SMART goals, we decided to share some of the goals that our scholars set for themselves at the beginning of January. It’s interesting to see the range of goals that the students have, and the ways in which they incorporated the SMART criteria.


For the new year, I have academic goals. My first is to get an A in ELA class. The first step for me is to ask at least one question in class each day. My second step is to study Wordly Wise for at least 15 minutes a day… This is important because I want to be a better person.

I want to be able to read one book per week. I can do this by playing less video games. The first thing I do when I go home is play video games and watch TV. If I don’t do these things, I can get right to my homework. This will give me more time to read… This is important to me because people will have a better impression of me if I do better in school.


…My second goal is getting the second starting position on my school basketball team. One way I will complete this goal is to practice harder than anyone else. Another way I can complete this goal is to work on my jumpsuit by doing 50 per day. This goal is important because it is one of the things holding me back from being a perfect athletic scholar.


I have many academic goals. First, I want higher than a B in the history exam comp. To achieve it, I have to study about 30 minutes every day for a week before. I also need to finish all of my classwork and read all of my assigned readings. I want to have at least four As and two Bs by the quarter . To achieve that I want to participate two times more than before in all of my classes. I also want to do all of my homework and not just a little. Those are all of my and how I plan to achieve them. I have these goals because I want to pass and make my mom proud.

One of my goals is to memorize all 44 presidents. If I can reach this goal, it would make social studies class less difficult for me and will generally make me smarter. Right now, the focus of social studies class is slavery and who the presidents of the U.S. were during this time period. The first step to reaching this goal is to create a catchy song for the U.S. presidents. I tend to memorize the lyrics to a song very quickly…The next step would be to constantly study. I would study by writing down the names of the presidents over and over again to get them stuck in my head. This goal is important to me because it will make me a better student and it will take away my stress.


One of my goals is to go to sleep earlier because in class I fall asleep and I get in trouble. I am going to stay off my iPad because I spend the whole day on it. Also, I am going to do my homework at 8 p.m. This goal is important because I don’t want my grades to go down.


My first goal is to improve in math by showing my work so that I can process what I am doing and not make simple errors. I can achieve this goal by writing the problem out neatly, completing the problems in chronological order, writing out every step, and showing my work.


My academic goal is to stop procrastinating. To stop procrastinating, I need to not be around distracting things, like my laptop and TV. Another way to stop is to do my homework right when I get home. I usually do other things, which leads me to using my laptop, which makes me forget all about my homework. I wish to accomplish this goal this year. It is very important to me because it will help me get better grades.


My main goal is to improve on social studies because I rarely get it and get confused. One way I can improve is to take more notes during class. That way I can look back at the notes when I am confused. I will only take notes on the important stuff. Another way to improve on social studies is to study at home for about 15 minutes, three times a week. That way I know all of the information and won’t have to be confused. This goal is important because it will help me improve my grades and myself as a scholar.


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Setting SMART Goals

I recently interviewed a very impressive young woman for a Teaching Assistant position with Achieve. Throughout her academic career, she has excelled at the highest levels, and her interest in educating urban youth brought her to our program. Our conversation touched on many different areas, but the piece that stands out most clearly in my mind centered on goal-setting.

After hearing about this candidate’s many accomplishments, I asked her, “It strikes me that you’ve always been very driven and motivated, and that you’ve encountered a lot of success at each stage of your academic career. How do you help young students, who may not necessarily possess the same degree of motivation, or who may not be finding much academic success, achieve at a higher level?”

She answered (and I paraphrase), “Well, I personally set lots of goals for myself. They’re not always big goals, but they allow me to track my progress as I work through an assignment, project, or larger undertaking. So I encourage students to do the same thing. The challenge is to set appropriate goals so that they can meet those goals and experience success. Even if the students are taking little steps, they’re always getting closer to the end. And what I find is that they develop more confidence and motivation when they see that they’re making progress and that they’re capable of getting the work done.”

Her response reminded me of an exercise we complete with our Achieve students several times a year, though on a larger scale: we help our students set SMART goals. Though SMART, as an acronym, can stand for several different combinations of words, we use the following designations.

Specific: This criterion applies to the remaining four categories as well, but requires students to answer questions such as: Who is involved? What does accomplishing the goal actually look like? Why is this goal important to you? Why does this goal matter? When will you accomplish this goal? The more specific the goal, the easier it is to determine how much progress one is making, and when one has attained the goal, marking the need to set a new goal.

Measurable: This criterion pushes the student to think about assessing his or her own progress in trying to meet the goal. Again, specificity is key. “Participating more in class” is neither specific nor measurable. “Participating at least twice each day in Spanish class” is better.

Attainable: When students set a goal that is too big, they often lose confidence and motivation because the target is too far away. Want to play in the NBA? Okay, but let’s focus on making your high school varsity team first. Want to become a doctor? That’s great, but what kinds of grades must you earn in high school and college? This is not to say that attainable goals should not, or cannot, be big goals. Students must strike a balance between setting a goal that is large enough to provide motivational value, but not so large that they feel helpless. This is one place where adult input and guidance is important!

Relevant: A goal’s relevance affects how much effort a student will dedicate toward ensuring the goal’s attainment. Why does this goal matter? How will accomplishing this goal help the student meet other goals that s/he may have? If a goal is relevant, the student will be more likely to work toward it, especially when things become challenging.

Time-targeted: Students need to think about the timeline along which they will work toward their goals. This keeps them on-task and gives them another criterion against which they can measure progress. Time-targeted goals can specify intermediate checkpoints as well, particularly for larger goals that require more time and effort.

My conversation with this teaching candidate reminded me that we should help students set SMART goals at all stages and levels of their academic undertakings, whether thinking about studying for a math test, writing a long-term research paper, or thinking about applying to independent school. Goal-setting should be a regular part of our conversations with students, and as adults and mentors in their lives, we play a dual role: helping our students create SMART goals, holding them accountable for the goals that they set.

Our next post features some of the SMART goals that our students created earlier this year. Given that several months have elapsed since that exercise, it’s about time we reassessed those goals to see how much progress the students have made!

And in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. The candidate I interviewed will be working with us at Achieve this summer!

~Eric Nguyen, Acting Director


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Explaining the Grade Shift

When we created Achieve in 2008, we sought to address the achievement gap during the middle school years. Our desire to start with this age group was based on what we knew to be true, particularly for boys and low-income children: summer learning loss is compounded over time, and the negative effect is cumulative.  But we had to make an important decision: at what grade would we enroll students? We ultimately decided on students entering sixth grade. We would “hook” students at a young age while maintaining the ability to involve Nobles faculty in this new endeavor, and we would work with our students for three summers and the included academic years. Students who completed the full program graduated in the summer before their eighth grade year.

Five years later, we’ve decided to revisit this decision. Although we do a good job preparing our students for middle school, we do not actively work with students during the transitional eighth grade year. Support is crucial during this transition. We know that there are many ways we can help students prepare for high school, particularly during the summer between their eighth and ninth grade years. Because of this, we have ultimately decided to shift the grades we serve in order to better prepare our students for the important transition to high school.

Beginning in the summer of 2013 (yes, this summer!), we will no longer enroll rising sixth grade students in the program, which means we will not enroll any new students this summer. Next spring, 2014, we will begin a new admission cycle, enrolling rising seventh grade students. A student’s commitment to Achieve will still run three summers, but s/he will now graduate in the summer before ninth grade.

With this new year, we will develop a curriculum that specifically teaches the strategies/skills and previews the content that students need during their freshman year of high school. During the eighth-grade academic year, we will also be able to assist students with the high school application process, whether they choose to remain in the Boston Public School system, or apply to charter, parochial, or independent schools. Furthermore, we will develop a curriculum that addresses the social and emotional transition to high school, helping students think carefully about leadership, goal-setting, and good decision-making in the face of challenging situations. All of these steps will ensure that our students successfully navigate the crucial transition to high school, keeping them on the path to college.

We are looking forward to this new change and our families are, too! We have invited last year’s graduates to return this summer and enroll in Achieve for one more summer, and we have invited currently enrolled students to opt-in to an additional summer as well. These cohorts will have the unique opportunity to attend Achieve for four summers, and we are excited to share that many of our families — believing as we do in the importance of providing programming during the eighth grade year — have already expressed an interest in staying with Achieve for a little bit longer!

~Eric Nguyen, Acting Director

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The Important Thing…

We often rush through our days, trying to get from one thing to the next; in doing so, we tend to miss the finer details that present themselves. How do we ensure that our students don’t fall into the same trap? How do we teach them to slow down, look around, and take the time to pay attention to the changes taking place around them?

A few weeks ago, when I discovered The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, I knew that I had come across something special, something that I had to share with our students at Achieve. In this book, Brown writes about spoons, daisies, snow, rain, and so on. She points out their various characteristics, always highlighting what she considers most important about each. Her book models the process of taking the simple things in life and focusing our attention on those details that we might otherwise overlook.

Together, Dr. Jody and I conceived of an activity in which we shared the book with our students and asked them to write their own paragraphs and poems in which they would identify those things about themselves, and the people and objects in their lives, that they find (most) important. Our students produced serious, thoughtful, humorous, and heartfelt pieces of writing; such is the outcome when we put them in the driver’s seat. We cannot share them all here, but read on for a sampling of student writing in response to our prompt. Enjoy!

~Eric Nguyen, Acting Director

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The important thing about
homeless people
is that they are
inaccurately judged.
They lie on corners countless cold nights.
Other times they have
great hearts
but they take dirty looks.
People don’t realize they are
human, too.
But the most important thing about
homeless people
is that they are
inaccurately judged.
~Allie, Pride 4

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The important thing about the sun is that the sun provides us with sunlight. I like that the sun helps plants do photosynthesis because when plants do photosynthesis, they make oxygen, and we need oxygen. I like that the sun keeps us warm and that’s good because if we weren’t warm, we would freeze. I like that the sun gives me summer, because without summer, we wouldn’t have Achieve. But the most important thing about the sun is that the sun provides us with sunlight.
 ~Ariel, Pride 5

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The important thing about Kirsten is that she leaves a smile on her face.
She is as short as a fun-size Snickers, but bursting with energy.
She is a wonderful mathematician, ready for a bunch of numbers.
She never likes sharing her work, a little selfish, I must say.
But the most important thing about Kirsten is that she leaves a smile on her face.
~Kirsten, Pride 4

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The important thing about me is that I’m a hard worker. I work on my basketball skills a lot, so that’s why I’m good at basketball. Also, whatever the obstacle that’s in my way, I never give up. I take it on and jump over that obstacle. Another thing is that I like working. It feels good to accomplish what I was aiming for. And to know that what I got was because I worked hard for it. But the important thing about me is that I’m a hard worker.
~Maxwell, Pride 4

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The important thing about me is that I am a great person to be around.
I can make you laugh when you’re down, to take your mind off of the thing you’re down about.
I can give you good advice from my experiences, that will probably help you, making you feel like you’re having your perfect day.
You’d feel safe and secure when you want to tell someone something because I’ll be that comfortable person you can tell.
I bring out the person you want to show people, that you can’t show people on your own.
But the most important thing about me is that I am a great person to be around.
~Maleek, Pride 4

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The important thing about my friends and family is that they are always by my side, through thick and thin.
My friends have many humorous, crazy, and intelligent characteristics that make them my friends. We have similar traits that make us bond. My friends always give me advice on activities I should do that they know will make me happy. They help me along the way. My family always enhance my self-confidence when I need them in troubling scenarios.
But the most important thing about my friends and family is that they are always by my side, through thick and thin.
~Empress, Pride 5

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The important thing about cheeseburgers is that they are awesome. When you bite into it you get a juicy taste. The smell makes your mouth water. If you ever eat a cheeseburger, you would never let it go to waste. Even when you are full, you still try to stuff yourself because it makes you happy. But the most important thing about cheeseburgers is that they are awesome.
~Christian, Pride 5

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The important thing about my mom is that she took, and will take care of me, for the rest of my life. My mom spent hours and days laboring me. My mom does everything possible for me, like getting out of work. She takes care of me by checking my temperature and asking how my day was every single day. But the most important thing about my mom is that she took, and will take care, of me.
~Jonathan, Pride 5

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The important thing about me is that I like being a reader.
I like being a reader because it’s interesting to learn new things.
I like being a reader because the books drag me into their pages.
I like being a reader because I like to explore new words and learn new vocabulary.
But the most important thing about me is that I like being a reader.
~Ruth, Pride 5

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The important thing about me is my individuality. I take something original and put my own spin on it to express my creativity. I might just sit and when something comes to me, I jot it down in my notebook. I am often on the opposite path of my friends, by stepping out of the cycle. But the most important thing about me is that I have my individuality.
~Tahjay, Pride 4

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February Vacation Fun!

Achieve students and tutors recently celebrated the February vacation with a trip to Boston Bowl. It’s nice to take a step away from the books every now and then — we work hard, and we play hard!

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