• Valdwin Etienne and two fellow Achievers enthusiastically try out an rowing machine for the first time.

    Valdwin Etienne and two fellow Achievers enthusiastically try out an rowing machine for the first time.

    Photo courtesy of Amphibious Achievement

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  • Etienne reviews a math problem in front of the class during a session of Amphibious Achievement.

    Etienne reviews a math problem in front of the class during a session of Amphibious Achievement.

    Photo courtesy of Amphibious Achievement

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  • Co-President Noam Angrist guides the class in breaking down complex sentences during a reading of an article from The Economist.

    Co-President Noam Angrist guides the class in breaking down complex sentences during a reading of an article from The Economist.

    Photo courtesy of Amphibious Achievement

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Preparing for the future with Amphibious Achievement

MIT mentor program helps prepare Valdwin Etienne, a sophomore at the O’Bryant school in Boston, for what's ahead.


Most teenagers live in the moment. For them, college is far off into the future. When college does draw near their parents often do the worrying. Valdwin Etienne, a sophomore at the John D. O’Bryant School in Boston, stands apart from her peers in this regard. Her parents, originally from Haiti, have little experience with the typical American college admissions process. Valdwin has had no choice but to take the initiative.

Etienne recently signed herself up for Amphibious Achievement, a dual athletic and academic mentorship program that brings high school students from the O’Bryant school to MIT on Sundays to work with MIT student mentors. For her, Amphibious Achievement “is like a second home.” Having bounced from school to school as her family moved from one side of Boston to the other, down to Florida and back to Boston, Etienne never felt as though she had a firm educational structure. But at Amphibious Achievement she does.

The program begins with a two-hour athletic portion. Swimmers are taken to the Olympic-sized aquatic facilities at the Zesiger Center and rowers are taken to MIT’s Division I Pierce Boathouse. The lessons learned in athletics are transferred to academics as Achievers transition to the classroom after eating lunch.

The academic portion is guided by a unique 60-page curriculum and a set of four core ideas: friendly competition, tangible incentives, advanced resources and high expectations. The critical reading portion consists of complex passage analysis and answering SAT-style questions. Students then present key ideas and relevant connections to the outside world. The math portion combines practice problem solving with pop culture, using such tools as interactive seminars and YouTube clips. The grammar portion concludes the four-hour day, with a competitive Jeopardy!-style game, where students compete in teams to revise sentences on the board in the shortest amount of time. At the end of the day, students are given “Opportunities to Achieve,” small at-home assignments that teammates can score points with upon completion.

Though the athletic and academic curricula provide a challenge, the tutors and coaches help the Achievers to meet the high expectations set for them. For Etienne, the Sunday morning trips to MIT are well worth it. “At Amphibious Achievement, the tutors are really motivating,” she said. “They encourage you to succeed. I used to just skim through big paragraphs on tests. But in Amphibious Achievement, I really learned how to break the paragraphs down.”

And the results show.

“Now, I score higher on tests,” Etienne said. “When I first started going to the program, I got a C in History. But now, this term, my grade is a B and I raised it because of Amphibious Achievement.”

For Etienne, grades are a means to an end. Her goal is to attend Florida State University. But in what she deemed an “epiphany,” she realized that to get there the process starts now. So, in typical fashion, Etienne found herself a part-time job during the school year at Teen Voices Magazine, picked up her grades, and plans to attend Amphibious Achievement this fall.

About Amphibious Achievement

Amphibious Achievement, an MIT student service group, is a dual athletic and academic mentorship program for high-school students in the Boston area. Achievers train to row and swim competitively while engaging in a comprehensive yet flexible SAT-based curriculum. All sessions of the 10-week program occur on MIT’s campus on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. In addition to tutoring and athletic training, Amphibious Achievement offers career-building workshops to aid Achievers in their job search and their college application process.

Applications are currently accessible for students and MIT mentors via the program website. Student applications close Friday, Sept. 16, while mentor applications close on Sunday, Sept. 11.


Topics: Athletics, Education, teaching, academics, Students, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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