Wheelock College steps up— again

The city of Boston – and the neighborhood of Mattapan in particular – is very fortunate to have a tremendous partner in Wheelock College. Under an existing agreement that started in 2011, the college has been managing the operations and programming at the Mattahunt Community Center, a critically important city-owned facility that was on the precipice of closing its doors for good six years ago.

The Reporter was told this week that the Wheelock -Mattahunt partnership will continue through June 2016 under a new agreement reached between the college and the Walsh administration. That’s excellent news, since the original agreement technically expired last June.

A memorandum of understanding between the city and Wheelock is due to be finalized any day now, according to Mayor Walsh’s office. Under the plan, the city will take a larger role in helping out at the Mattahunt, which serves hundreds of kids and families from nearby Mattapan neighborhoods and also serves as a critical after-school and summertime haven for students from the adjacent elementary school.

In particular, Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) will provide year-round lifeguards and support all programming for the center’s pool – a big assist that will make the newly renovated pool a much more viable asset in the community. It will also help the school, which has for the first time has hired its own swim instructor for the upcoming academic year.

These investments are critical at Mattahunt School, which is in the second year of a Level 4 “turn-around” status aimed at boosting achievement and morale at the school. Principal Genteen Lacet Jean-Michel is already seeing some good results from her leadership, with the school’s “climate” rating jumping from a lowly 2 two years ago to a 6.5 this past year.

Rashad Cope, who runs the Mattahunt Wheelock center, is an invaluable ally for Jean-Michel, helping to bolster student performance with after-school and summer programs aimed at building on the momentum happening next door. This summer, scores of kids are using both the center and the school building for programs that include reading and math skills, as well as sports activities.

“When the school went into turn-around, and we lost an after-school program [at the center] we had to think creatively,” explains Cope. “We didn’t come in with the idea to develop programming. It was more to give technical assistance and working with existing programs and partners to provide space for those organizations to provide programming.”

Under the new agreement, the Reporter has been told, the Walsh administration will step up its role, which is a good idea. The mayor will assign a cabinet member as a primary contact for Wheelock and lend support to fundraising to “ensure financial stability at the center.” And, critically, the city and Wheelock will convene a transition leadership team to identity and implement an eventual replacement plan for Wheelock.

Wheelock answered the call to help at the Mattahunt at a time when it was likely that the center would otherwise close its doors amid a citywide budget-cutting sweep that hit community centers hard. Wheelock has become an integral part of the Mattapan community over the last six years. The college deserve our thanks and all of the assistance and good will that city government can muster to help them make the next two years a success at the Mattahunt.