Greater Egleston is an alternative public high school in Roxbury, one of the few public schools in Boston that gives students a multitude of options for completing their coursework to receive a high school diploma.

The school is geared toward teens who need to work to support their families, or need school hours outside the traditional ones or for young teen mothers who want to complete a high school degree. Students are given flexibility, including the option to complete coursework online, come in four days per week or push their start time to 10 a.m.

Boston Public Schools is currently investigating Greater Egleston after an administrative enrollment error in September left more than 100 students locked out of the school. Multiple students at the school testified to the Boston School Committee in October that their schedules have become less flexible, in part because of a recent changeover in headmasters.

One student, Arlyss Castillo, who testified at the October school committee hearing, explained to our Learning Curve team why Greater Egleston is so important for her and her classmates.

When all goes well, she said, the school gives students who might have considered dropping out a way to re-envision academics and complete their degrees. At Greater Egleston required coursework is accompanied by practical skills. Students can complete math requirements through financial literacy coursework, for example, and English requirements through journalism classes.

Castillo is 18-years-old, and after her son was born a year ago her top priority was finishing her education. Castillo said, “Everybody would come to me and see my big old belly [and say,] ‘I hope you're going to finish school.’ My family: ‘you have to finish school.’ Strangers on the streets: ‘You have to finish school.’ Teen parents that had dropped out: they would all be like, ‘you have to finish school.’”

She knew she had to do it, and she wanted to finish by any means necessary.

It wasn’t easy. After she transferred to Greater Egleston, she faced a much longer commute than the trip to her old school. She went from taking one direct bus to having to take three buses. One from home to her son’s preschool. One to a central bus transfer station. And another to school.

The longer commute was worth it, she said, because her former school, Madison Park, wasn’t working for her. She struggled to find a preschool that was closer to her home, so she could make it in for the school’s early start time: 7:15 a.m.

Sometimes, she would have to bring her son with her to make it to class on time. “They would kick me out of the school. I would go there and try to either get online to work or pick up my work and they would say I couldn't come in because I had my son with me and he wasn't allowed in the school because he was a distraction,” she said. 

Castillo had to search for months to find daycare for her son, and she said she missed a whole school year. 

When Madison Park offered to help, she said she'd already had enough. “I told them, ‘I'm switching schools. I'm leaving. I can't do this. They were like, ‘well, we're just going to try to figure it out. And I was like, 'No. It's ok.’ I had to get back to school and finish and make something of myself.”

Arlyss Castillo places her son in his stroller before walking to the first stop of her three bus commute.
Tristan Cimini/WGBH News

Eventually Castillo found a school that was a good fit for her and her son. Although her son’s current daycare takes extra travel time, she said it’s worth it. Her son is happy and loves the daycare owner. 

“It was such a big spacious room for him to play. He had his own sleeping bed, and I just felt so comfortable there," said Castillo. "[The daycare owner] just took care of the kids. It was just good. Before I left, she gave me a plate of food for him.” 

She continued, “If Greater Egleston didn’t exist, I wouldn't be in school right now. I would not be attending school at all.” She said the ability to do online work and adjust one's class schedule allows teen parents to spend time with their children, for example, or family breadwinners to work a job. “It just made everything so much easier for me.”

Castillo said she's always been an advocate for people facing hardships around her. As a child, she wanted to run for president. “Then I realized I can't because I wasn’t born here. I was born in the Dominican Republic,” she said with a smile, “but I [can] come out for everything else except president, like city council.”

Castillo plans to finish school and go to college where she hopes to pursue a degree in law or business. She said, “the person I want to inspire the most is my son.”

WGBH News' coverage of K-12 education is made possible with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.