It’s Friday morning and energy level is high in Morrison Forum. Achieve students have completed another week of rigorous academic activities and on July 19, they welcomed their last special guests as part of the Friday Speaker Series—WBZ sports anchor and reporter Steve Burton and two former campers from the Ron Burton Training Village (RBTV), Chris Borelli and Brandon Getchell.

Burton encouraged students to “appreciate your education” and “always have a goal.” He shared the story of his own life lesson when he was expelled from St. Marks School and his journey since then. Now, as a parent, Burton encourages his kids to always have a goal, write it down and stay focused, and he urged Achieve students to do the same. 

Burton also helps run the Ron Burton Training Village (RBTV), a program for which his father, Ron Burton Sr., former Patriots player, created before he passed away. The program works with challenged youth to build character and leadership development.  Former RBTV campers Borelli and Getchell shared stories of growing up in foster homes and how RBTV has impacted them.

Both Borelli and Getchell were exposed to domestic violence and substance abuse in their families at a young age. They lived in several foster homes and have been shuffled to various school districts. Despite their hardship, Getchell says he “never lost sight of his dreams,” and he’s thankful to all the mentors in his life. He recalls Ron Burton’s message to “be a good listener and listen to good advice.”

Director of Achieve Nora Dowley-Liebowitz says that the speaker series has become an important part of the program.

“It’s important for them [Achieve students] to know that there are many ways to achieve success,” she says. “They are here every day and they hear from Jody [McQuillan], Eric [Nguyen] and me. We can be singing similar messages as the speakers, but because they [the speakers] are coming in, taking the time to be with them to share their stories in a fresh voice, it makes it that much more powerful and meaningful for the students.”

“When you see people come in to speak with you and share their life, that’s something really special,” says Diana La Paz, third-year Achieve student. “When you hear from people who have taken what we are learning here and using it in their lives to be successful people, you see that it is real, [and] you want it too. You want to be a part of something bigger.”

Dowley-Liebowitz also notes the subliminal skills that are embedded within the speaker series. “They learn how to be an audience; how to engage with adults and ask critical and analytical questions and to not be afraid to ask difficult questions. It also impacts their public speaking as well.”

This summer, Achieve welcomed Joy Haywood Moore, former deputy head of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, two Boston public high school graduates and Team Empowerment youth group.

The success of the speaker series is largely due to the driving force of Achieve volunteers Jane Kringdon P’07 and Suzie Montgomery ’84 P’14 ’15 ’18, who bring in the speakers.

“Suzie and Jane really understand our students and what and who they can benefit from,” says Dowley-Liebowitz.

In conjunction with the theme of the speaker series, “My Dream, My Future,” students were also challenged to identify their dream and map out a path to achieve their goals.

Students “packed their suitcases” with objects or items that will help them reach their dreams. They identified both short-term and long-term goals. Suitcases featured collages, graduation caps, drawings, music notes or books accompanied by self-written poems or narratives.  Read their poems on the Achieve blog here.

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