Four years ago, Stevaughn Dowdye was a tall – almost 5’11’’ – quiet, withdrawn freshman at The English High School in Boston. His mother had died unexpectedly, and he had to move in with his aunt. His charismatic cousin was pressing Stevaughn to join his powerful gang. Under extreme stress, Stevaughn responded by punching and breaking school windows, cutting class, and refusing to respond to adults’ questions. His report card had an F, three Cs and two Bs. He missed eight days of school and was late 22 times that year.
Today, as a senior, Stevaughn is still tall but he is captain of The English’s varsity football and basketball teams, has near perfect attendance, excellent behavior and had two Bs and five As, including an A+ on his report card. He is applying to four-year colleges.
Stevaughn credits Diplomas Now, which has been operating at The English for four years, with helping him make the right decisions and get on track.“The people in Diplomas Now are like another family,” said Stevaughn.
Stevaughn’s turnaround mirrors that of The English High. Founded in 1821 and one of the first public high schools in America, The English originally was created to prepare working-class boys for business, mechanics, and engineering trades. Among its famous alumni: J.P. Morgan, Louis Farrakhan, and actor Leonard Nimoy.
But by 2009, the school was ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools in Massachusetts, and the state was threatening to close it.
Diplomas Now, a partnership of Talent Development Secondary at Johns Hopkins, City Year and Communities In Schools, came to English in 2011. More than half of the school’s 689 students were two or more years older than they should have been for their grade level. Kids didn’t show up for school, and fights were common. Only about half graduated.
Today, the number of students too old for their grade has dropped to 23 percent. About 90 percent of students attend daily. Fights are rare, and the climate has improved dramatically. The English is a much more desirable place to go to school, and 91 percent of the senior class is on track to graduate.
Stevaughn says the City Year corps members helped him set priorities during his freshman and sophomore years and got him involved in The Perch, the after-school tutoring sessions held in the cafeteria.
“City Year guided me on my path and helped me when I needed it,” Stevaughn said. “If I had extra class work, instead of me just playing around, City Year would make sure I worked on the class work or did the assigned homework. They would never let me just sit around, chilling.”
The corps members also motivated him to come to school in the morning by offering an enticing incentive: Breakfast. “That motivated me to get up in the morning,” he recalls.
Miss Bard, the Communities In Schools site coordinator, helped Stevaughn get the volunteer hours he needs to graduate, cleaning the café and repainting pillars in the library.
And Miss P – Rene Patten, a longtime English teacher who now is the Diplomas Now school transformation facilitator – believes the weekly “early warning indicator” meetings with Stevaughn’s teachers helped him reach his academic potential.
“The magic of Diplomas Now is how they engage students and build relationships with them,” said Ligia Noriega-Murphy, The English Headmaster.
Would Stevaughn be on track to graduate and planning on college had Diplomas Now not been at The English?
“I honestly don’t think so,” he said. “I’d be doing the same thing I did freshman year: acting a fool. Four years ago, I didn’t think that far ahead. I had a lot of things going on in my life. I wasn’t thinking about senior year and keeping my grades straight.
If I got mad freshman year, I hit things. I got angry and I broke a window. City Year and my teachers worked with me on my anger. They wouldn’t just let me leave and walk around. They would follow me and calm me down.
Today, I’m more of a leader and a brother to most of the younger kids in the school. My family is so proud of me and I am proud too.”