Official Publication of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
Volume 44, No. 4
Partnership is a gateway to success for students
By Scott McLennan
F or the students in the Gateway to College program at Massasoit Community College, finishing high school did not seem to be a
“I walked out of Brockton High with all F’s,”
“I got into a lot of fights,” recalled another.
“I was not going to sit in one spot all day. When
I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to drop out
of high school,” said a third.
Yet there they were, sitting among their peers in
a classroom at Massasoit, learning the intricacies of
college financial aid forms as they neared the point
where they would earn a high school diploma and
were considering the next step.
Not surprisingly, these three students — and
many of the Gateway graduates from Massasoit —
have chosen to stay at the community college in
Brockton to earn associate’s degrees or complete
Massasoit is one of six colleges across the state
offering the Gateway to College program. The others
are Bristol Community College, Mount Wachusett
Community College, Holyoke Community College,
Quinsigamond Community College and Springfield
Technical College. The colleges partner with school
districts to help students between the ages of 16 and
21 who have somehow veered off a traditional high
school path and have either dropped out or are on the
brink of doing so.
In the Gateway program, the students earn high
school and college credits concurrently on one of the
community college campuses. Successful students
complete the program with a diploma from a high
school in their district and a hefty number of college
Massasoit partners with seven school districts in
its region. Academic Services Coordinator Sharice
Miles said that in the seven years the program
has been in place, she has seen more and more
integration between traditional college offerings and
the “safety net” aspects offered by the program.
“A lot of our students just blend right in,” she
Massasoit math professor Teresa Fernandes uses
a combination of traditional classroom approaches
and online units to catch students up to their high
school peers and then launch them into college work.
“I may be a little more nurturing with the
Gateway students and help them understand the
standards we have set,” Fernandes said. “It’s not
E nglish professor Steve Lester barely varies the curriculum between his traditional college students and his Gateway students.
But he does acknowledge a different set of
“This is a petri dish for urban education,” he
said. “There are kids living in cars and shelters, kids
who became pregnant in high school and are coming
back, kids in recovery. Every issue faced in urban
districts is present here.”
Earning the trust of his Gateway students is a
big part of being able to successfully guide them.
But when the connections happen, the results are
“If they feel you are on their side, they will
go through a wall for you,” Lester said. “Everyone
checks on everyone else. One day I wasn’t here, and
the students called me, making sure everything was
The program began in Portland, Ore., in 2000
and gained national prominence with the aid of the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2006, Mount
Wachusett Community College in Gardner was the
first Massachusetts campus to adopt Gateway to
Mount Wachusett partners with the Ralph C.
Mahar Regional High School in Orange.
“In the years that I have been in this role, I have
seen an ever-growing number of students graduate
from the Gateway to College program,” said Sara
Storm, the counselor at Mahar who serves as liaison
between the high school and the college. “Students
who before may have felt behind or disengaged
from their traditional high school programs due to
a variety of factors have the opportunity for a fresh
start through Gateway.”
Deb Bibeau, assistant director of transitional
programs at Mount Wachusett, pointed out that
given a fresh start, many Gateway students become
high achievers. The number of those completing
postsecondary education programs has risen, with
some of MWCC’s early Gateway graduates now in
possession of master’s degrees.
Scholarships cover the cost of tuition and other
expenses, keeping costs low for students. There
are strict attendance policies, and at Massasoit, the
students must complete community service projects
as a graduation requirement. With the rigor comes a
good deal of support, however.
“The people here want to see you succeed,”
said a student who entered the program at Massasoit
in the spring of 2011. She is working toward an
associate’s degree in human services and then
intends to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice.
The Gateway program is helping 20-year-old
Marco Silva realize his long-held dream of studying
forensics. “I knew I wanted to do that before I even
got here,” he said.
Another student,who aspires to be a teacher, said
she was proud that the school where she volunteered
recently hired her to work two days a week with
“Before, I was crazy and did whatever I wanted
to do,” she said. “Now I am focused, confident and
want to do well.”
Massasoit Academic Services Coordinator
Sharice Miles works with student Marco Silva.
Photo by Scott McLennan