GUEST BLOGGER: Sean Finlay, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, X-Cel Education


X-Cel Education, is a nonprofit education organization which provides High School Equivalency (HSE) and college preparation classes to out-of-school low income adults in the Greater Boston area. X-Cel was founded in 2000 by two adult educators, Don Sands and Mamadou Ndiaye, who devised a solution to a challenge they identified in the adult education system. Many times programs have to turn away students because of the high demand. Those who are turned away sit on waiting lists for months, and, once enrolled often face the same issues that led them to drop out in the first place; a one size fits all system.

X-Cel has been designed with a unique program model that alleviates the difficulties faced by out-of-school youth and adults. We offer free pre-HSE, HSE prep, and college prep classes at six locations around Greater Boston that have been identified as high need areas. We do not have wait lists and students can begin classes immediately upon entering. When a student arrives for the first time they are given an assessment that identifies their strengths and weaknesses. A customized learning path is designed to fit their needs and they are able to work through their studies at their own pace. To ensure our students are prepared to take their HSE exam, every 4 months, students’ progress is tracked using the TABE test, a nationally-recognized assessment of adult academic skills.

Our model depends heavily on partnerships with community based organizations and a large volunteer pool. We partner with community-based organizations to secure donated space for our programs. In return X-Cel offers educational services to the organization’s clients. Each week an average of 45 volunteers come through our doors to assist our students. Sometimes they tutor several students during the two and a half hour sessions while other times they assist a single student in an area where they are struggling. By utilizing donated space and volunteers we ensure that our overhead costs are low and more of each donor’s money goes straight to the students. In the past year we have implemented an additional support system to our graduates who are currently enrolled at an area college. We noticed that the tutors and other aids at the colleges often didn’t provide adequate help and ran on schedules designed for full time students. Many of our students have families, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities that made attending these sessions inconvenient and they would often go without the needed help. To combat these issues we gathered volunteers who could meet with these students in locations and at times that fit into our students’ schedules.

X-Cel has a culture of success. Since our inception in 2000, 903 students have increased their math or reading by one grade level, 533 have completed their HSE credential, and 305 have moved on to post-secondary education. This past year alone, we had 72 students complete their exam and 50 moved into a post-secondary program, which are among the highest numbers in the city of Boston. Part of our success has come from the X-Cel community that is often referred to as a family. Of our employees, 50% of them are X-Cel graduates. They are the first people who prospective students meet upon walking through our doors. They are from the same neighborhoods, the same backgrounds and have been in our students’ shoes. They understand the difficulties facing our students and will go out of their way to assist in any way they can. Our staff cares about our students and will often reach out to a student if they feel something is going wrong. Our staff and volunteers have been known to stay late or meet a student outside of class to help them conquer a particular subject area.

As we look to the future, we are assessing our next steps, and generating ideas on how to further assist underserved adult learners in Greater Boston. We plan to open classes in Mattapan and East Boston in the near future and build new relationships that can assist in achieving these goals.

If you would like to stay updated on X-Cel, please visit our website and subscribe to our newsletter.