Our rigorous academic program includes the core subjects of math, history, science, language arts, and reading. Students also take Spanish language and literature, and world religion classes. Our 8:1 student-teacher ratio ensures that each student receives significant individualized attention. All classes are team-taught by an experienced teacher and an AmeriCorps teaching fellow. Additionally, we have a committed group of volunteer tutors who provide extra help to students who need it.
As a lottery-based school, our student body represents a wide range of cognitive abilities. Despite this challenge, our academic program has been extremely successful at bringing all students up to – and often beyond – grade level, and 75% of our girls are admitted to, and awarded scholarships to attend, some of the region’s most competitive independent secondary schools.
Esperanza maintains a 1:1 iPad program for students, enabling each girl to have an iPad to use for classwork, homework, and independent work. This technology has been a game-changing resource for students, teachers, and parents. Students are able to use a number of educational apps to learn, read, complete individual and group projects, and more. Teachers are able to conduct assessments and collect data on student progress, and grades are shared through an online system that parents are able to access to understand how their girls are doing in real time.
All students are required to participate on either varsity or intramural teams. The girls participate in athletics for two hours per day, two days per week. Esperanza’s athletic program was designed to build confidence, teamwork, and leadership. In addition, our girls get the added benefit of learning how to overcome challenges and obstacles, while confronting a major cultural stereotype about young women playing sports. Participating in athletics contributes to positive body image and higher self-esteem. Our athletics program provides a number of valuable lessons for our girls that will be carried into their everyday life. We offer our girls the opportunity to try a variety of sports including soccer, basketball, softball, cross country, dance, and swimming, among others. Our varsity teams play against other independent schools, which broadens our students’ horizons, builds school pride, and allows our players to practice sportsmanship. By participating in the athletic program and having fun, the girls learn to appreciate a healthy lifestyle and lifelong wellness, and incorporate exercise into their daily lives.
Friday afternoon clubs give students the chance to try something new and discover or develop a skill set or interest. Club offerings change every trimester and students are able to select which club they would like to join. Recent offerings have included cooking club, science club, outdoor adventure club, chess club, book club, coding club, etiquette club, and film making club.
Esperanza Academy’s Wellness Program takes a multidisciplinary approach to integrating physical fitness and health education into every school day—it includes a mandatory athletics program, nutrition, health, and cooking workshops, healthy school meals and snacks, and an advisory program where students can discuss in- and out-of-school issues with caring adults. This program is part of Esperanza’s holistic approach to education and helps students understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle in achieving success both in and out of the classroom, and in their personal development. Esperanza empowers students to both make healthy choices and to understand why these choices are important.
Healthy Meals and Cooking Workshops
Esperanza Academy recognizes the importance of a healthy, balanced meal and the impact such nutrition can have on student achievement. Given that Lawrence is a low-income community, many of our families live in food deserts and face issues of food insecurity. While our families do the best they can to provide their daughters with nutritious meals, many families don’t have access to the necessary resources, so Esperanza plays an integral role by providing breakfast, lunch, and two healthy snacks per day.
In order for each of our students to tackle their extended (9.5 hour) school day, Esperanza designed a meals program with a chef who prepares all meals on site. Chef Dana designs and serves menus that are heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. There is a fresh salad bar at every meal and a bowl of fruit (apples, bananas, etc.) is left out for students or faculty to grab an extra snack. Our meal program allows for our girls to start off the day focused, and remain energized throughout the day.
Our meals program also serves to foster our Esperanza community. The staff, students, and teachers all enjoy their meals together in a community setting. The girls are also fully involved in our eating community – they prepare the dining area by writing out the menus, they set the tables and serving areas, and they clean up after meals – all of which reinforces the excitement and ownership around the healthy and positive choices made by our community.
Another aspect of our Wellness Program deals with food and health empowerment for not only our students, but their families as well. Our students and their families learn a great amount about the power of their food choices. We provide a number of opportunities for our girls and their families to learn about making healthy choices at home. There are ongoing opportunities for families to come in and work with Chef Dana to prepare breakfast and lunch. Parents are able to learn from Chef Dana about food preparation and cooking, and what goes into to a balanced meal. Each year, Chef Dana puts on a number of cooking workshops for the girls and their parents. These workshops provide community-building opportunities, engage families, and make learning about healthy choices fun!
For information about our athletics program, please see the Athletics section above.
Another major component to our Wellness Program is providing students with a safe space to discuss the challenges and opportunities for growth they encounter as middle school girls. There are number of issues that our girls face, both as young women and residents of Lawrence, and these obstacles have the potential to influence our girls to make unhealthy and negative choices. This is why it is important for us to allocate the time and resources to address issues like sex- education, healthy relationships, body image, peer pressure, and substance abuse.
Our small student body, combined with our caring and committed faculty, ensure that strong mentoring relationships are fostered between the girls and the adults that care for them; it is because of this that most of our girls feel comfortable approaching teachers and staff to address any issues with which they are dealing. While this easy and casual communication is important, we also provide two class periods designed for issues to be discussed in a more formal, intentional setting. Advisory is a time for our girls to reflect on ideas in a broader sense and build awareness around these issues in order to make positive choices. The girls are able to ask questions in a safe space among their peers and advisors. In addition to Advisory, which happens year round, the girls take a Life Skills class for a portion of the year, which is another chance for honest, informative discussions in an open, safe space. The girls are able to work with our school social worker, who serves as our student and family liaison, for these classes. In these Life Skills classes, issues addressed are specified to the needs of individual grades as opposed to the Advisory curriculum, which is implemented with slight variations to the whole school.
With a teen pregnancy rate that is four times the state average, young women from Lawrence desperately need the education and support to make healthy choices that will empower them as leaders in their community. Because of this, our Wellness Program has been, and will continue to be, a top priority to ensure that our girls will succeed at Esperanza and beyond.
Esperanza’s Summer STEAM program is part of our extended school year, and participation is required for all students. In 2016, we redesigned the existing five week program from an extension of the regular school year into an innovative, hands-on, project-based learning capsule. The new program is divided into two parts: a week in June spent at Camp Nokomis in Meredith, New Hampshire and four weeks in July on campus at Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, MA.
The week at Camp Nokomis is spent on leadership development and team building activities, outdoor and environmental education, and traditional camp activities including swimming, boating, arts and crafts, and archery. For many students, the trip to camp is their first time away from home, and for some, it’s the first trip out of Greater Lawrence. Students sleep in cabins with their classmates and teachers, and are able to strengthen their bond outside of the classroom. The isolated setting of the camp allows the girls to commune with nature, and there is time built into the day for both personal reflection and community fellowship. Alumnae return as counselors to gain work experience and serve as role models for younger students. The academic emphasis at camp includes activities that prepare students for their STEAM projects later in the summer. Students take part in gathering data, collaborative team building strategies, and pre-planning for their STEAM projects.
During the on-campus session in July students are in school from 8:00am – 2:30pm each day. Students spend their mornings on a humanities curriculum with special attention to organizational, writing, and study skills, as well as test taking strategies offered at grade appropriate levels; this component of the program serves as scaffolding for both their STEAM projects as well as their overall academic success throughout the school year. The afternoons are devoted to project-based learning centered on STEAM subjects. Each grade works on a different project in a different STEAM subject and at the end of the program, Esperanza hosts a showcase in which the students present their findings and finished projects to each other, their parents and teachers, and the wider Esperanza community. In the pilot year of the program (2016), projects included bridge building and the engineering design process, coding, robotics, and freshwater ecology (in partnership with the EPA).
The rising eighth graders do not participate in the on-campus session, as they are each placed at four-to-six week secondary school prep programs at local independent schools including Pingree School, Brooks School, Phillips Academy Andover, and St. John’s Prep.