EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 26, 2014

Your view: Letters to the editor

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Learning Center helps kids graduate

To the editor:

After reading the story “Phoenix on the Rise in Lawrence” (Jan. 2), I feel compelled to point out that there has been a school in existence that works to serve the needs of the over-aged, under-credited student. This school is the Lawrence High School Learning Center.

In the past two years alone the High School Learning Center (HLC) has graduated over 200 students who otherwise would never have finished high school. The school attracts students who are 17 years or older who earned very little high school credit. These students, despite the malicious label, are not “throw-away” students. While some cut classes their first two years at the flagship high school or somehow never connected well with school itself, most of the students fell behind because they were working as head of a household, taking care of grandparents or siblings, or struggling with homelessness. Some even struggled through pregnancy, abusive families and relationships, gangs and drug addiction.

The High School Learning Center prepares students for college and career readiness. In place were always the wrap-around services necessary for student achievement -- health and counseling services, job and career services, referrals to outside agencies for housing, wellness and a warm meal. This school is unique in the commonwealth, not only because it is a district-based public high school (not a charter, nor collaborative, nor a private school), but because it is a family. Anyone who walks through the door feels the close-knit connection between teacher and student. Most importantly, the kids know it’s real.

This is a school that is truly about the students. The High School Learning Center teachers and staff work within the context of students’ realities -- to change their minds and hearts and get them to realize the power of an education. The mentoring program, the teacher leadership, family nights, the competency based curriculum, myriad out of school field experiences, small classes, flexible scheduling, the job fairs, the college visits and the sense of commitment all help move kids to graduate high school. Over the last two years, for both the June and August graduations, the numbers soared into the 50s out of a total average student population of 190 students.

MCAS scores saw major improvements, too. While the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education cohort data doesn’t apply due to rolling enrollment, MCAS ELA proficiency was met by 100 percent of the students who took the test in spring of 2010; in 2011, science, engineering and technology scores soared high into the proficiency range. HLC also faces the challenge of low attendance (average 78 percent), but in response to this, put into place two additional schedule options: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for students who worked to support families after school and a 2-5 p.m. after-school directed study for students who needed to make up incomplete courses.

When you have a school that has a history of success and programming that meets the needs of the at-risk student, it should be supported and included as a model for other high schools to emulate. In my several conversations with both Olivia Lahann and Frank McLaughlin, we all acknowledged that sharing best educational practices (and student successes) helps strengthen all district schools. This is not a new concept -- any contemporary educational administrator who has the needs of urban poor at heart understands this kind of care and vision. Offering at-risk students an educational option that prepares them to stand on their own two feet shouldn’t be newsworthy. It should be the norm.

Christina M. DiBenedetto


Former principal and teacher at HLC

Seeking a solution on immigration

To the editor:

I respect the views of our friends in Lawrence and value their commitment to human rights. The government of the Dominican Republic shares this same strong commitment, and is working to implement a new immigration policy that will protect those fundamental rights, while documenting and guaranteeing a legal status to each and every person living on Dominican soil.

This transparent and inclusive immigration policy will help improve the condition of undocumented immigrants in a transparent and fair manner. Over the next 18 months, the government plans to implement policies that will make clear the migratory status of approximately 435,000 people from almost 120 countries. This would not be possible without the support of the international community, particularly our key ally, Haiti. In fact, officials from the Dominican Republic and Haiti plan to meet again on Feb. 3, as part of an ongoing dialogue to address mutual concerns related to the court ruling.

All the while, the government will continue its commitment to respecting basic human rights and guaranteeing free public services to all persons within the Dominican Republic -- the government invests 18 percent of its health-care budget to service the immigrant population, provides access to public schools for approximately 50,000 immigrant children, and protects workers of any nationality.

We appreciate the international community’s support as we embark on this complex process to implement a comprehensive immigration policy that will facilitate the naturalization process and improve the condition for undocumented foreigners in the Dominican Republic. The outcome of this process will not only benefit the island of Hispaniola and the region, and could serve as a roadmap for other countries that are facing similar issues.


Ambassador of the Dominican Republic