Beginning next school year, Fenway High School in Boston will expand its early college program to enable students to stay on an additional fifth year to continue college coursework at UMass Boston at no cost and access academic support from Fenway High staff.
The pilot program, known as "Year 13" for the typical 12 years of schooling in the U.S. school system, was announced Wednesday night during Mayor Michelle Wu's first State of the City address at MGM Music Hall.
"This will give our students an additional full year of college-level courses debt-free as they transition to college and accelerate toward a degree," Wu told the audience.
Fenway High is an "early college high school" where students can simultaneously earn high school credit and up to two years of college credit at UMass Boston and Wentworth Institute of Technology, according to the school's website. The student make-up is predominantly Latino and Black and in more than half of households, English is not the first language.
Boston Public School officials on Thursday said they chose Fenway High for the Year 13 pilot since the school already has several years of experience running an early college program.
The goal is to get at least a dozen students enrolled in the extension by the end of this school year — and if successful, to expand the program to other schools.
"I think this is our role — to be that connective tissue with higher education partners to be a more holistic experience for our students," said Ted Lombardi, secondary superintendent for college, career and life readiness for BPS.
Fenway High instructors say they're excited about the additional year of early college because it will be a cost savings for students hoping to earn a four-year degree. But it will also ease their transition into higher education. While participating students will spend most of the day taking classes at UMass Boston, Fenway High staff will be providing specialized academic and emotional support on a weekly basis.
"The theory, in action, is to kind of blur the lines between high school and college," said Fenway High School Principal Geoff Walker. "So they can experience college in a supportive setting."
In a statement, UMass Boston Provost Joseph Berger said he hopes this pilot will help the university identify and address barriers to student success.
“We are committed to learning from each other in order create more equitable and culturally sustaining learning environments for BPS students," said Berger.
The statement from UMass Boston added some financial support is being provided by the Gates Foundation but did not specify how much.
The mayor's announcement builds off of BPS's and the Wu administration's goals to expand early college in Boston to encourage college completion and lower the costs of a higher education degree. This school year, they launched new "innovation and early college pathway" programs at five high schools to offer city high schoolers college credit and work experience in the sciences, finance and health care fields.
"If we expect our young people to be the leaders our world needs, then itʼs on all of us to take every step to ensure they have the skills and experience to meet this moment," Wu said in her Wednesday address.