First Lady Michelle Obama Honors UMass Boston’s Project ALERTA at White House

October 20, 2010

by Office of Communications


The University of Massachusetts Boston’s Project ALERTA, an enrichment program for Latino and English-language learner 3rd to 5th graders in the Boston Public Schools, has received the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award— the highest honor an after-school and out-of-school program can receive.

First Lady Michelle Obama honored the program at a White House ceremony today. Project ALERTA is one of only 15 programs chosen from 458 nominations nationwide for the national award (formerly known as the Coming Up Taller Award). It is the only program in Massachusetts to win this year. Video of the ceremony is available at the White House website.

Noelia Lugo, a 5th grader at the Hernandez school in Roxbury and a Dorchester resident, and ALERTA founder Lucia Mayerson-David received the award on behalf of the program.

Mayerson-David, a 1971 UMass Boston graduate and Chilean immigrant, founded Project ALERTA in 1988 as a way to combat dropout rates for Latinos in Boston that were approaching over 50 percent. She had an idea that seemed radical at the time: If you want to keep these children in school – and see them attend college – you need to reach out to them as early as 7 or 8 years old.

“It is truly an honor to be recognized by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities,” Mayerson-David said. “When we first started Project ALERTA, some people asked, ‘What are you doing?’ But I believe we’ve shown that reaching these students early does make a difference. We give these children confidence and drive, and some of these children, for the first time, are hearing that they can succeed. There is no such thing as ‘I can’t’ in this program.”

The program, which is held after-school at select Boston Public Schools and at UMass Boston during school vacations, weaves together core academic subjects with activities like theater, painting, scientific experiments, creative writing, and dance. Boston Public Schools teachers, many who have been with the program since its beginning, work with students to help them gain admission into the best middle and high schools in Boston, including competitive exam schools.

More than 3,000 students have come through the program. Project ALERTA and its sister program, Talented and Gifted (which serves students grades 6 through 12) have served as a pipeline for Boston Public Schools students into college. One hundred percent of English-language learners participating in the program have demonstrated increased proficiency in speaking English and 89 percent demonstrated increased proficiency in reading and writing English. All ALERTA alumni have successfully graduated from Boston Public high schools.

“Project ALERTA’s recognition as a national leader in youth arts and humanities programming brings honor to UMass Boston’s mission to broaden access to higher education,” said Chancellor J. Keith Motley. “In the lives of the young English-language learners they serve, we see a new generation of future college students.”

“We want to congratulate our longtime partner, UMass Boston’s Project ALERTA, on their award,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson. “Through academic enrichment, student-centered learning, and family engagement, we are collaboratively closing the access and achievement gaps for Latino youth and English-language learners.”

Project ALERTA received a plaque and $10,000 grant from the award.

Awardees were recognized by Mrs. Obama for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to generate a wide range of outcomes, including increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment, as well as improvements in literacy and language abilities, and cultural awareness. The programs also provide a safe haven for young people in their most vulnerable hours, after-school, evenings and vacations.

“This year’s awardees are shining examples of using success in the arts and humanities as a bridge to success in life,” Mrs. Obama said. “Through them, our young people are not only discovering new talents and finding their creative voices, but also becoming better students, better leaders, and better citizens.”

For a full list of winners, visit To find out more about Project ALERTA and this national recognition, visit

About the University of Massachusetts Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s eight colleges and graduate schools serve more than 15,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit