New program supports, mentors black students

The Newtonite

[media-credit name=”Jacob Schwartz” align=”alignleft” width=”288″] Senior David Oluwadara plays an ice-breaker game with other members of the Dover Legacy Scholars during the first week of school.
by Julia Oran

Former English teacher Inez Dover said that when she was a teacher at this school, she always tried to encourage black students to take honors and Advanced Placement English classes because when her daughters attended this school, they complained that they were the only black student in their honors classes.

As a result, Dover said she wanted to develop a program in which black students are “encouraged to take more honors courses and were supported and nurtured when taking them.”

Dover said, “I knew there were students who were doing very well and those that needed the gentle push. I also wanted to honor all of the black students who had attended Newton North and successfully took higher-level courses––that is where the idea of Legacy Scholars came about.”

After many years of planning and looking at data, Dover Legacy Scholars, named after Dover, became a reality this year. The program aims to “enhance and expand the academic experience and achievement of children of African descent” through a partnership with the Myrtle Baptist Church of Newton, according to the program’s mission statement.

Current program director and former English teacher Annie Blais explained the program is a response to statements by black students at this school about facing “the challenge of isolation” in higher level classes.

Similar to Blais, principal Jennifer Price said, “The program has really come out of the data. Our black students are not taking many AP tests compared to the white community at this school. Black students were not scoring advanced on the MCAS compared to their white counterparts.”

Blais said, “When we see a discrepancy like that in the data, then we know we need to do something as educators to better support that group of young people.”

Program

Currently, there are 34 students participating in the program, but Blais said the program will accept applications until the end of term I because many new students came to this school over the summer, and this is only the first year of the program.

In order to be a Dover Legacy Scholar, students must receive a B- or better average in all classes, take at least one curriculum I class, honors class or AP class and achieve annual academic progress.

In addition, students must attend quarterly seminars on black history, participate in an extracurricular activity, take Leadership in a Diverse Society, participate in an internship, demonstrate leadership and good behavior and fulfill a service requirement.

Blais added, “It’s really important to mention that there is a large Dover Legacy Scholars faculty of people working as advisors and supporters.”

“Faculty from this school who give their time––mainly, folks who have experience in programs which mentor students of color or help kids transition to high school,” she said.

Dover stressed, “I don’t want students to be a part of the program because it will look good on their college application. It must and will be more. In order to stay in the program students will have to work at every level and across the areas.”

Founding

Dover said when Price first became principal, she approached Price with the idea of a program in which students attend “workshops that would enhance their growth and development” and then are rewarded for their efforts through scholarships.

In 2000, Dover, Blaise, METCO director Paula Diggs and other faculty members developed Leadership in a Diverse Society, which gathered students from diverse backgrounds to explore social justice issues and to work together for human and civil rights, according to Dover.

Blais taught the first course, and Dover said she continued to teach the course until she retired, and it is now taught by English teachers Peter Goddard and Michelle Leong. Dover added that she hopes the course will become mandatory for all Dover Legacy Scholars.

Out of her founding and interest in Leadership in a Diverse Society, Dover created Dover Legacy Scholars.

Dover said, in 2011 when the faculty first started planning the meeting, Dover attended as many of the initial meetings as she could. She said, “I want to be as involved with it as I can even though I may not be physically in the building.”

She added, “It is important to me that my 37-year tenure at North is one that reflects the dedication of teaching to all students and giving back to the community in a nurturing and scholarly way.”

An advisory board made up of teachers and students worked together throughout last year to create the program. Sophomore Mathena Abramson, a member of the advisory board, said the board discussed the problems Dover Legacy Scholars would address, such as finding a place for the Legacy Scholars to do homework or to meet.

Abramson said the program is important because it will help the students “advance, while we grow up, get just as good jobs as everyone else and do well later on.”

She also said the program will help the students “meet new people and branch out” and learn new strategies for school.

Future

Blais said she hopes the program will be a model for other support groups, and as it grows over time, more students will be able to benefit from it.

Dover commented, “I would like the program to become a premier high school scholars program. I want it to reflect the values of achievement and history of those who came before.”

Eventually, she said, she wants to set up a Board of Directors, including alumni, former teachers, Myrtle Baptist Church members, Newton residents and Boston residents.

Dover said, “This was always a dream of mine, and I am so excited that Price and Blais have supported my dream and now this school’s Dover Legacy Scholars building team and advisers are working hard to make the dream a reality. There is so much more to do yet I really think we are on the right track.”