On a recent July morning, around 20 students worked in the Our Sister’s School community garden. They grew vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Our Sister’s School, also known as OSS, opened in September of 2008. During the year, the school has 64 students, who are in school for almost eleven hours each day. The extended schedule allows for a myriad of extracurricular activities and experiential learning field trips, as well as built-in sessions for homework help and sustained silent reading time. The girls take all the traditional classes, but also learn subjects like leadership, public speaking, and creative writing. The school is 100% tuition free. Communications Coordinator and Alumni Director Laurie Knight said OSS targets students who are low-income in the Greater New Bedford area with a drive towards academic rigor and success.
“Kids who come to Our Sister’s School, again, it’s a choice,” said Knight. “This school isn’t for everyone, it’s rigorous, it’s demanding academically, our days are long, we’re preparing students to achieve in a dynamic and really competitive academic environment in the future. “
Seventh-grader Lainie Fermino is from New Bedford. She said she knows Our Sister’s School is challenging, but she doesn’t mind.
“It’s actually pretty fun because all the activities we have and all the field trips, they’re so unique from all the other schools,” Fermino said.
Staff science teacher and volunteer coordinator Jocelyn Mitchell said that although the extended day model is demanding, it’s worth it, and she’s never before had such close relationships with her students. .
“It’s always chaotic but always fun,” she said. “Every day is always different, and I always learn a lot from the students, even though it’s supposed to be me teaching them, they end up teaching me quite a bit.”
The staff of OSS also includes members from the national service organization AmeriCorps. Like Mitchell, it’s not unusual for faculty and staff members to have several different roles, because private donations completely fund the OSS budget. As a result, the help of hundreds of volunteers, like Fairhaven resident Ann Healy, is critical to the school’s survival.
“The thing I like about volunteering at OSS is I feel the girls have a great opportunity, something perhaps they would not have had at a regular school,” Healy said. “I feel the girls get such a wonderful education, they get excellent art and music programs and are involved in lots of sports.”
Parent and lifelong New Bedford resident Angelina Tavares is a special case. She taught math and science at OSS. Although she’s moved on, one daughter has graduated from the school and another is a current student.
“I feel that OSS is a place that affords opportunity and empowerment for the young ladies and that’s my mission along with theirs,” she said.
Our Sister’s School’s first class of students graduated from independent, parochial, vocational, and public high schools last June. Each graduate is college-bound. They plan to attend many different institutions of higher education: Amherst College, Bristol Community College, and the University of New Hampshire are just a few examples. They hope to have careers in everything from nursing to engineering. And every current student interviewed said she plans to attend college.