Location: Commonwealth Avenue, in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston
Type of School: a grade 9-12 co-ed college-prep day school
Students: 151 girls and boys
Diversity: 30% students of color
Student-to-faculty Ratio 5:1
Tuition: $34,704 in 2012-2013.
Financial Aid: 32% of students receive financial aid; the median award is $25,650.
What the School is Like
Commonwealth was founded by Charles E. Merrill, Jr., in 1957. He decided to construct the school in the heart of the city of Boston, at a time when suburbanization was more the norm, so that the city would serve as a background to an active education that was part of the city life. His goal, in his words, was to foster students who went on to be “decent, socially responsible, generous people,” and, to this end, the school still encourages students and graduates to be socially conscious. The mission of the school, in its own words is, “to educate young people from diverse backgrounds to become knowledgeable, thoughtful, and creative adults, capable of careful analysis, fruitful cooperation, responsible leadership, and deep commitment.”
Since the early days of the school, Commonwealth has followed certain traditions, including a twice-yearly trip for all faculty and students to a farm, formerly located near Hancock, New Hampshire. There, students and teachers plan and cook meals, put on talent shows, and sleep on hay piled in the barns. Now, the students and faculty go together to a farm in Maine and still work together.
Students come to Commonwealth from Boston, as well as from surrounding towns, such as Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, and Newton. The school offers financial aid to 32% of its students. Thirty percent of the students are people of color, and 24% of the faculty are people of color.
Commonwealth offers rigorous coursework that prepares students to take Advanced Placement or AP exams , but the content is determined by the teachers. In other words, the content of the AP exams does not strictly dictate the curriculum. The school also offers support in the form of twice-weekly study halls for students who can benefit from working in school, as well as an orientation program during the summer for students who may not be prepared to take on the school’s curriculum; this help continues during the school year, and the school also offers on-site tutoring. Teachers are very willing to provide extra help to students, and, given the 5:1 student-to-faculty ratio, they can provide close support and mentoring. In addition, advisors work with groups of 6 students.
In the school’s words, Commonwealth is “a small school with a big heart.” Students are required to participate in 70 hours of community service work, and there is also a club run by students to facilitate work in the community. The school offers exchange trips to help students learn foreign languages. Students from schools near Barcelona, Spain and Strasbourg, France, come to stay with families at the school, and, during spring break, students from Commonwealth go to Spain and France to visit with the students and stay with local host families to experience immersion in another language and culture. Students of Latin travel to Rome and Pompeii over the spring break to see antiquities.
Commonwealth has a strong record of college admissions. Recent graduates have attended colleges and universities such as Haverford, the University of Chicago, Brown University, Smith College, Tufts, and Amherst. The median SAT scores for the class of 2012 were 745 in Critical Reading, 721 in Writing, and 727 in Math. Seventeen percent of recent classes were National Merit Scholarship winners, and 20% were National Merit Semi-finalists.