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Build a Framework That Allows for Structure and Flexibility

Learn how the team at Charlestown High School created a structured early college pathways experience that also allows for flexibility and individualization of students’ early college journeys.

August 6, 2021

At a Glance

Learn how the team at Charlestown High School created a structured early college pathways experience that also allows for flexibility and individualization of students’ early college journeys.

Joanna Mawhinney

Industry-aligned early college pathways can harness the benefits of dual enrollment and career-focused education to maximize impact for high school students. This “best of both worlds” model requires an intentional and customized design approach to ensure students have the knowledge to be strategic in their pathway choices and educators have the tools to help them navigate the early college experience. A pathways framework that lays out a sequence of courses, aligns to degree programs offered at the partnering college, and provides windows into the future careers is an important asset for the success of early college pathways.

By creating a structured experience for students, C-Town Pathways was able to identify areas where more students could take a more flexible approach and encourage more individualized early college journeys. These frameworks are just one of the tools that early college teams can use to help students satisfy their curiosity and align their early college experience to their unique interests, while staying connected to a community of support and a shared understanding of the overall goals among their cohort.

The Series: Three Big Lessons in Six Years

Three Big Lessons in Six Years is both a reflection on the past and a look ahead to the future at Charlestown High School and other early college programs across the country. The purpose of this series is to document essential design elements, operational structures, and critical support for students to be successful. It also presents an authentic view of the troubleshooting required to overcome key initial challenges.

In documenting the clarity that comes with hindsight, but also the inevitability of learning as you go, our hope is that educators feel empowered to take informed risks while avoiding some of the growing pains and challenges CHS experienced along the way. This series was made possible by support from the Linde Family Foundation.

Lesson 1: Set a Vision to Guide the Future

Learn how the leaders involved in the launch of C-Town Pathways successfully brought together partners around a shared vision and non-negotiables.

Read Lesson 1

Lesson 3: Build a ‘Both/And’ Team

Learn how C-Town Pathways built a “both/and” team of staff that can both create a vision for the program and keep that program running through day-to-day challenges, ensuring its success.

Read Lesson 3

About C-Town Pathways

Six years in, the C-Town Pathways initiative at Charlestown High School (CHS) and Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) in Boston has blossomed into a transformative school model.

As part of their goal to build the youth talent pipeline for the information technology industry, SAP , a global software company and JFF partner, approached CHS to sponsor and co-design the school’s first early college pathway, Information Technology. Partnership and generous funding from SAP propelled the launch of C-Town Pathways and has helped to sustain and grow the initiative through the present day.

Since the launch of the Information Technology Pathway in 2015, the school has added two additional pathways, Business and Health, and enrollment has grown to roughly 125 students across grades 9 to 12.

JFF’s headquarters in Boston is only a few miles from CHS. We’ve led early college high school initiatives across the country for nearly 20 years and have been fortunate to serve as a close partner and intermediary supporting the work at CHS from day one. We’ve worked side by side with CHS, BHCC, and SAP staff to convene meetings, develop strategic plans, design programming, and steward funding, and have even attended field trips and ordered pizza for students. This role has provided us unique insight into the type of leaders, mindsets, and work necessary to stand up early college pathways.

In addition to setting hundreds of students on a track to postsecondary education with dozens of free college credits in hand, C-Town Pathways has served as a case study for the state’s new early college high school designation process. But even as C-Town Pathways enrollment has grown and become more formally embedded in the school’s structure and culture, it continues to rely on the iterative learning process that has been central to its success.