For the past few months, Garcie Champagne and her class at Boston Adult Technical Academy near Back Bay have been working on a production of “A Raisin In The Sun.” It’s Lorraine Hansberry’s play about a black family moving into a white neighborhood.
Her student, Erickson Alves, has been practicing his lead role as Walter Younger.
“We had just had class earlier that day and he had just given this amazing performance," she said. "And to go from that amazingly positive thing to having to talk to him about, 'Hey, today's your last day' — I honestly did not know how to handle that.”
Boston Adult Technical Academy is designed to meet the needs of students aged 19-22 who have recently entered the United States or returned after dropping out of school. Alves is one of about 20 students at the school and one of nearly 140 students in the district who will be 22 or older by the end of the school year and will have to leave school.
The state requires districts to provide an education up until age 22. In the late 1990s, Boston schools set a policy that forbade students to stay past that age. In the past, that policy was not uniformly enforced, and last year, then Superintendent Tommy Chang issued a waiver to Boston Adult Technical Academy that allowed older students to finish school. But with Chang's resignation, that waiver was not reinstated for the 2018-19 school year. Now, if students turn 22 during the school year, the district plans to kick them out the day before their birthdays and put them in adult education programs.
“It will take them a lot longer to accomplish their high school degree," said Champagne. "If they're unable to get their high school diplomas, then so many doors are unable to be opened to them.”
Alves' 22nd birthday was Nov. 15, and he has been directed to an adult ed program that meets two nights per week. But he has remained in school despite being told to leave; he hopes the district will change its mind. Teachers at Boston Adult Technical Academy are asking for a waiver so older students can remain in school until they graduate. The district will meet with those teachers on Jan. 11.
"In the programs that our students are being sent to, they're not going to have ... [the] kinds of supports [that] are absolutely necessary in order for them to successfully pass their classes, to get the credits that they need and to pass the tests," Champagne said. "To be told halfway through, or even a quarter of the way through, that even though you're making this progress, you're going to be kicked out because of your age — it just prohibits students from being able to successfully complete their high school diplomas."
Alves came from Cape Verde in 2016 with only an eighth grade education. Like some of his peers, he had been out of school for years before he started at Boston Adult Technical Academy. Still, he’s on track to graduate in June.
More than 80 percent of students at the school are English language learners, and many are recent immigrants.
“It’s going to be hard for me just to think, 'Wow, I was so happy,' because I want to stay and now they tell me to leave. It's sad," Alves said. "I want to stay at [Boston Adult Technical Academy] to have more English, to learn more, and to have more experience.”
Boston’s adult ed programs provide job training, English language instruction and an adult diploma program. But despite the different options for adult students, some education advocates say the district’s aging out policy is a bad idea.
Silja Kallenbach, vice president of World Education in Boston, said the city's adult ed programs meet infrequently compared to the K-12 programs. She said adult ed doesn’t offer the consistency and intensity that English language learners need.
“Those young adults are going to run the risk of not re-enrolling in any program," Kallenbach said. "It's a real disincentive. It's demoralizing, I'm sure, for them to be pushed out. It sends a strong message: you're not wanted.”
Kallenbach said there’s also a huge disparity in funding between K-12 and adult education in Boston.
“The value that we place on that person's education drops more than tenfold the minute they are no longer able to access services through the K-12 system,” said Kallenbach. "A policy that will push out younger people ... out into the streets, essentially, and into the adult system is not a good one, and many of those young adults are going to fall through the cracks."
Kallenbach called the policy "shortsighted," saying Boston depends on its immigrant workforce.
"All of our growth depends on the growth of the immigrant population in the city of Boston," she said. "To undermine their ability to get as high quality, as intensive an education as possible, is really bad policy for the whole city."
In a statement, the district said it is evaluating the policy and its implications.
Alves said his mother in Cape Verde is praying that he will be able to stay at his school. He wants to become an English teacher after graduating.
“After I graduate, when I go to college to study like education, [I] hope to be teaching someday,” he said.