student success

In a Season of Gratitude, I’m Thankful for Our 'Village'

It was late August, and suddenly, the moment I’d been anticipating for years had arrived. My husband and I were dropping off our baby, Nyanja, for her freshman year at Lafayette College. The bed was made up with the new sheets, bedspread and pillows. The dorm room was decorated with countless photos of friends and family. We had found the dining hall, the laundry machines and the health center. We hugged and waved goodbye, leaving our baby to navigate her new world. 

Nyanja in her college dormitory.

It Takes a Village

As we climbed into the car and began the five-hour journey home, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude—gratitude for all the many people who had helped shepherd us to this day. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. My husband and I, and my father, who lives with us, have been a powerful team, but our village extends beyond the walls of our home. Looking back, so much of what brought us here to this moment was wrapped up in Boston Prep, a school community my family has been part of 15 years now.

I had my son Donovan, Nyanja’s older brother, at a young age, but I knew right from the start, I wanted better for my children. I wanted them to do better than me, to go further than me, to have more opportunities than me. When my husband and I learned about Boston Prep, a new charter public school that would be opening soon with a mission to ensure every student succeeds in a four-year college, we immediately signed Donovan up to be a member of the founding sixth grade class. 

We didn’t know anything about applying to college, getting financial aid or what it took to graduate. We did know, however, that our children were worthy of a college education. We needed them to know that, too, and we knew that the only way they would come to believe that college was possible for them was if their teachers believed it. We found that in Boston Prep. In the 15 years since we became part of the Boston Prep community, never once has the school’s commitment to their mission faltered.


My hope for my children is that they become who they were meant to be. Again, in Boston Prep, I found a partner to help each of my children—both very different from one another—become the best version of themselves. Where others saw deficits, Boston Prep saw strengths, working diligently to help my children grow and develop into strong individuals. Donovan, who was outspoken and opinionated, always questioning authority, learned to use his voice appropriately to affect change in his community. Nyanja, who was quiet and unsure of herself, found self-confidence and the ability to advocate for herself and others. 

A Powerful Partnership

It’s not only my children who became better as a result of Boston Prep. I, too, became a better mother thanks to all I learned through my relationships with the teachers and faculty. I learned the importance of home-school partnerships. I learned that we needed to collaborate and always present ourselves as a united front. When we had disagreements with teachers, I learned to handle those out of earshot of my children, always showing them that the teachers and their parents were a team, together invested in their best interests.

Never before had I experienced such a powerful partnership with others, outside of my family, who cared so deeply about my children. Even today, with no children in the school anymore, there are faculty members who I feel like I should invite to Sunday dinner because they remain that much a part of our family. 

On that monumental day this past August, as Lafayette College disappeared in the rearview mirror, I was overcome with gratitude. I am grateful that we found Boston Prep 15 years ago. I am grateful that today I can proudly say that I am the mother of two intelligent, successful young adults—one a college graduate and the other on her way. 

I’ve seen the reality for friends and family with tremendous potential who were not provided a supportive school environment based on high expectations. Their stories could easily be our story—but I am thankful that our story is different. Each of us—my son, my daughter, my husband and I as parents—we are all stronger and better thanks, in part, to the relationships we built and experiences we had as part of the Boston Prep community. Schools play a critical role in the village that raises a child. I will be forever grateful for our village.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Susan Peterson is the mother of Donovan Birch, Jr. (Boston Prep Class of 2011, Emerson College Class of 2014) and Nyanja Haney (Boston Prep Class of 2019, Lafayette College Class of 2023).

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