Josh Charpentier beams as he watches his students enter the room for a rehearsal just prior to the main event: their graduation from high school.
Charpentier, co-founder and co-director of Plymouth’s Map Academy Charter School, talks them through the upcoming ceremony: giving roses to those who have come to celebrate with them, bringing their loved ones up to the front as each student’s praises are recited, and walking to music each student has selected.
Map Academy is a charter school for students ages 14 to 24 for whom the strictures of conventional high school have not worked. Thirty-four staff members, including 20 teachers, serve the school’s 275 students. There are plans to expand to 300 students starting this fall.
“The need is drastic,” says Charpentier. “High school does not work for everybody. Education for the last 300 years has not changed much. You’re supposed to learn at the exact same pace. If you are not on that train, the train is going to keep moving.”
Students get to the school – located on Resnik Road – in the Plymouth Industrial Park – by Plymouth school bus, the GATRA bus network, rideshare, or by car. They come from all over the region – Plymouth, Wareham, Carver, Bourne, Kingston, Plympton, Halifax, Marshfield, Pembroke, and Middleborough.
On this day, Jan. 24, people are arriving for the graduation ceremony at the Hotel 1620 Plymouth Harbor.
“I don’t even have the words to thank you for everything,” Allison Donnell says to assistant director Michael Balaschi as she carries a silver balloon in the shape of a B. It’s for her son, Brian Bayramshian, 19, who is one of the graduates.
“Mike was the bright light for our whole family,” Donnell says, explaining that Balaschi was her son’s therapist and that he introduced Brian to Map Academy.
“Brian was not on the right path in the right place middle school into high school,” Donnell says. He missed a lot of school because of anxiety and depression, she adds.
At Map, she says, her son was able to make up two years’ worth of missed high school and graduate just six months late. He plans to attend UMass Lowell this fall, where he hopes to pursue music engineering.
Then it’s the students’ turn to file in – dressed in white caps and gowns.
“You need tissues at these ceremonies,” says Map co-founder and co-director Rachel Babcock as she wipes away tears. “Students failed systems not designed for them,” she tells the audience.
The graduation ceremony was the 12th the school has held since opening in fall 2018. Ceremonies are held several times a year. In all, the school has graduated 171 students, including 12 in this class.
As each student’s name is called, friends and family come up to the front of the room.
Will Cardillo’s mother puts her arm on his shoulder as they stand listening to Charpentier and Babcock praise him.
Cardillo, 18, says that in November 2021, when he was a junior at Marshfield High School, he suffered from depression and was frequently absent. Classes started at 7:15 a.m. Each block was 80 minutes. He had homework every night.
“I just couldn’t deal with it,” Cardillo says.
Eventually, he dropped out.
But in April 2022, he started attending Map, where he could come in when he wanted and could access his work remotely. There were no deadlines.
“That really helped me to graduate,” he says. “I love Map. The staff is amazing. My struggle with depression didn’t stop when I came to Map, but they beared with me.”
Cardillo has already started a mobile auto detailing business, Auto Aesthetics, with customers all over the South Shore. (Every student must complete a capstone project. Cardillo’s was to lay out a plan for opening a shop for his detailing business.)
As grad Mark Caseau listens to Charpentier and Babcock praise him, he wipes a tear. Caseau hopes to get a job with a humanitarian nonprofit organization.
Two of the graduates have children in the audience. One, Alyssa Diller, carries her son as she receives her diploma.
The name of the alternative public charter school is not an acronym. It’s a reference to a map of Plymouth with 398 dots on it. They represent students who dropped out of high school between 2012 and 2015, plus 7th and 8th grade students at risk of dropping out and students attending other alternative high schools when Charpentier and Babcock applied for their charter in 2016.
Tamara Cherduville, 23, commuted from Boston at the end of her time at Map, but she originally found it when she was attending an alternative school in Brockton.
“I always was getting suspended from a young age,” Cherduville says.
After dropping out of high school in Brockton in 2018, she tried Job Corps, which allows students to learn a trade while they earn their GED, but she couldn’t stick with it. A year after starting at Map, however, she received her high school diploma.
Cherduville wants to become a welder and maybe study business at community college. She is also the mother of Naemari, a two-year-old girl.
“Besides all of that, I want to be an advocate for youth,” she says.
“I had a lot of obstacles, and they just made sure that I got my work done,” she says of Map. “There needs to be way more schools like this.”
Fred Thys can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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