An accredited high school for students with mental health challenges. Learn more about how we can help your child succeed, academically and personally.
McLean Hospital’s Arlington School is an exceptional, nationally recognized college preparatory high school that integrates strong academics with clinical support for students with mental health issues that can interfere with their education. Arlington School students are likely to have:
- Social and emotional issues—including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health or medical diagnoses—that affect their academic productivity and self-esteem
- Complex learning styles
- Disrupted educational experiences related to school absence
The Arlington School provides a safe and supportive community where students grow academically, heal and thrive emotionally, assume greater responsibility for their learning, and work toward personal goals. We strive to unlock the potential within our students and to maximize their abilities as confident learners so they become knowledgeable, creative, independent, and resilient individuals.
Our teachers and clinical staff work closely with therapists and schools in the community to provide students with the best possible educational experience.
Arlington School at a Glance
- Private day school serving 40 students in grades 9-12
- Learning environment and educational programs tailored to individual needs
- Integrated onsite therapeutic support
- 11-month program, including an 18-day summer session
- Typical class size of 4-6 students
- Core academic subjects and electives, including a rich arts program
- Approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as a Special Needs program and accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Full college preparatory curriculum, aligned with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks/Common Core State Standards, leading to a high school diploma
- Opportunity for distance learning and community college courses
- Transition counseling
- Physical education, including health and wellness
- Referrals by local public school systems or private placement by parents
Arlington School was founded in 1961 as a fully independent educational program for adolescents in residence at McLean Hospital. In response to changes in state education law, including Massachusetts Public Law 766 (1972) and the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (1993), Arlington School became a day school for a diverse body of emotionally challenged students from throughout the Boston metropolitan area.
The school is located on McLean Hospital’s main campus in Belmont, Massachusetts. Set apart from other buildings, we occupy a historic brick Victorian cottage, which includes three levels of classrooms, offices, and student activity space, with room to accommodate approximately 40 students and 20 staff.
Our academic, arts, and wellness spaces are well equipped to meet the broad needs of our students. The resource room allows for separate, supervised space for students who need to work alone or in pairs. School-provided lunch is served to students every day in our multipurpose room.
In addition, the school has access to McLean’s fitness center and gymnasium for physical education classes and to a separate conference room in the McLean cafeteria for testing, team meetings, and parent support groups.
Arlington School classrooms utilize SmartBoards and have a variety of electronic devices for student use, including wireless internet access for personal devices. In addition, Mac laptops and iPads are available to be checked out of the school’s library.
Class content is delivered by teachers who are licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Students address the content with accommodations delineated in individualized education programs (IEPs).
Arlington School graduates and parents of graduates are often invited to speak with current students and their families about their post-secondary school experiences. Speakers are chosen to represent a diverse range of experiences, and current students and parents are given the opportunity to ask questions.
Mission & Philosophy
At the Arlington School, we believe that growth is possible for every student, that learning renews self-worth, and that our students can overcome the challenges that impede their success. Discovery, flexibility, empathy, respect, acceptance, patience, and courage are the core values of our learning community.
We aim always to be organized and clear in presenting material, to offer flexibility and variety in the curriculum, and always to be encouraging and patient.
Teachers at the Arlington School commit to loving their subject and continuing to learn it, and generating enthusiasm to make learning exciting. We emphasize each student’s strengths and strive to present educational options that play to those strengths. Also, we address the student where he or she is, not where we feel he or she should be. We recognize all forms of success and progress, behavioral or academic.
We respond with understanding, respect, humility, forgiveness, persistence, and a belief in each student. Because we expect that teachers and staff will experience student behavior that is abrasive, disruptive, or hostile, we always attempt to be empathetic and understanding of the students’ feelings and impulses, while making clear our expectations.
We know that not all behaviors deserve our tolerance, but each has a cause. We are always respectful of the person, even when we are critical of their behavior, and we listen to what the student is telling us, verbally or non-verbally, and attempt to understand it before we act.
In a touchy or volatile situation in the classroom, we intentionally ignore the hidden agenda wherever possible, use humor (not sarcasm) or a moment of silence to defuse the situation, continue as if nothing has happened, and address the incident later with the student privately or with clinical staff. When we are wrong, we apologize. We always accept students’ apologies and reparations, and we never give up on a student or on the possibility of that student’s progress.
Bullying Prevention and Intervention
The Arlington School is committed to providing a safe learning environment, free from bullying and cyber-bullying. This commitment is an integral part of our comprehensive efforts to promote learning and to prevent and eliminate all forms of harmful and disruptive behavior that can impede the learning process.
We understand that many students who enroll at Arlington School have already been the targets of bullying, harassment, or teasing. We take steps to create a safe, supportive environment for our vulnerable population within our school community and provide all students with the skills and strategies to prevent or respond to bullying, harassment, or teasing.
We will not tolerate any unlawful or disruptive behavior—including any form of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation—in our school buildings, on school grounds, or at school-related activities.
We will investigate promptly all reports and complaints of bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation, and take prompt action to end that behavior and restore the target’s sense of safety.
We will support this commitment in all aspects of our school community, including curricula, instructional programs, staff development, extracurricular activities, and parent or guardian involvement.
The Arlington School Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan is a comprehensive approach to addressing bullying and cyber-bullying, and we are committed to working with students, staff, families, law enforcement agencies, and the community to prevent issues of violence. The school director or a designee is responsible for the implementation and oversight of this plan.
You can find the plan in the Publications section, or you can ask our office for a copy.
Our college preparatory curriculum meets all appropriate standards to prepare students for a high school diploma and includes classes in core subjects such as English, math, science, history, and world languages. Arts, health, and fitness classes are also offered, along with an array of electives.
Students at the Arlington School can experience a more consistent education because we have the flexibility to adjust our curriculum to accommodate social and emotional issues that would otherwise interrupt learning. Course progression is organized by grade, but often students come to us with educational gaps. Adjustments are made to the individuals’ courses as needed.
The Arlington School also provides an array of academic supports and opportunities to help students become better equipped to manage the demands of their course work. These supports are wide-ranging to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners and support the mission of the school.
Academics at a Glance
- All classes, including most electives, meet five times per week
- Classes are 45 minutes each
- There are seven class periods, plus an activity period and lunch period
- Class periods do not rotate from day to day
- The school day starts at 8:30am and ends at 2:40pm
- Early release days start at 8:30am and end at 12pm
Our teachers and staff realize that, in addition to traditional basic literacy, students need the vital skills required in this digital age, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. We incorporate this into our academics as well as use technology with students throughout each day.
The Arlington School resource room is a small, quiet classroom where a teacher works with students using techniques geared toward a special-needs population. Students receive assistance with homework and related assignments as individuals or in groups. The development of executive function skills—including homework management and behavior—are included in the program.
In addition, the resource room is used for students to utilize their individual coping strategies to effectively manage the school day. Time in the resource room can also be used as an opportunity to check in with clinical staff for support and problem solving.
Many students enroll in a study skills class and are expected to use this time productively. Students can complete class assignments, work on homework or a project, read a book or magazine, work on creative writing assignments, or conduct research. Also, students can access one-on-one assistance with academic work or get help with time management, organization, concentration/memory, note taking, test taking, and research skills.
The mission of the Arlington School Library is to support all members of the school community with the resources and skills necessary to be successful readers, researchers, and users of information in the 21st century. The library can be a place for quiet reflection or a lively environment, depending on what activities are taking place.
Most students have a directed study in their daily schedule. Students enrolled in a study can complete class assignments and homework, read a book or a magazine, work on a project, or use time for online research. Study supervisors are available for one-to-one assistance with academic work and can communicate with classroom teachers for recommendations about how a student might make good use of study time. Students can also get help with executive functioning skills or meet with a clinician or the transition specialist during this time.
All students are assigned to an academic advisor whom they meet with once a week for 20 minutes. Students are encouraged to use the sessions to identify academic concerns and to monitor their own progress toward academic goals. Advisors communicate regularly with classroom teachers and clinicians, assist students with identifying concerns, and help students plan steps to address problems and make progress toward goals.
If a student is hospitalized during the school year, a designated staff member contacts a hospital program staff member to discuss how best to provide schoolwork for the student. The Arlington School collaborates with hospital staff or with contracted educational services to ensure that hospitalized students who are able and willing have access to texts, materials, and assignments selected by Arlington School teachers, with the goal of maintaining their current level of academic functioning. Credit for Arlington School work completed outside of school is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Distance learning courses let students take high school level courses not offered at the Arlington School. Courses are designed so students may start at any time, and work is done independently at the student’s own pace. Arlington School proctors provide structure, guidelines, and due dates. Students are usually given one year to complete the course, but it can be completed in less time. Students are also assigned a directed study course if they are taking a distance learning course.
Dual enrollment lets students take college courses for both high school and college credit. This gives students the chance to take on the emotional and academic challenges they will face as a college student while they still have the support of the Arlington School.
Students can be considered for dual enrollment as early as the second semester of their junior year, assuming they are performing at a high academic level. To participate in the dual enrollment program, a student must be found eligible by the student’s transition specialist, clinician, and academic teachers. The application process is facilitated by the Arlington School’s transition specialist.
Our transition specialist guides students through the process of preparing for college or preparing to return to the community school setting. The specialist provides access to college and vocational institutions through fairs, visits to schools, and dual enrollment courses. All students can engage in the college application process, career exploration, internships, and community service opportunities.
Part of the transition program is dedicated to helping students become independent young adults. This work can happen in individual meetings or with families during an informal transition meeting, as a lot of the work must happen at home. The transition specialist can also support students and families in applying for standardized test accommodations related to location, extended time, additional breaks during the test, and assistive technology.
Plans for transitions back to community high schools are discussed with students, their parents, Arlington School faculty, and the student’s school district. When a student advocates for a return to a less restrictive setting, the academic and clinical faculty make recommendations based on the following criteria:
- The student’s capacity to improve and manage academic and emotional expectations
- The student’s ability to keep academic and emotional pace with peers
- The student’s capacity to handle routine classroom pressure
We also support and encourage our students to research community internships, vocational opportunities, and part-time employment to accompany their academic and clinical successes. Some students may receive a small stipend for participation in volunteer opportunities.
About 80-90% of our students attend two- and four-year colleges immediately after graduation. Our transition specialist assists students in all aspects of transition planning so that students can meet their academic and vocational goals upon high school graduation. The specialist attends individualized education program meetings and works with students’ teachers and clinicians to determine appropriate post-high school plans. Meetings with the transition specialist increase in frequency as students begin their senior year.
As students receive college acceptances and are deciding where to attend, students work with the specialist on identifying mental health and academic supports needed to thrive in a college setting. Once a student has made a deposit and officially enrolled, the transition specialist supports the student in applying for academic and clinical accommodations.
If a student has had academic and/or clinical difficulty during their senior year, the transition specialist can also offer guidance about the deferral process, the benefits of commuting to college, or starting at a community college and transferring.
2021 College Acceptances
- Bay Path University
- Brandeis University
- Bunker Hill Community College
- Clark University
- College of Our Lady of the Elms
- Concordia University (Montreal)
- Curry College
- Dean College
- Emerson College
- Emmanuel College
- Endicott College
- Fitchburg State
- Fordham University
- Franklin Pierce University
- Lasell University
- Lesley University
- Lynn University
- Merrimack College
- North Shore Community College
- Plymouth State
- Providence College
- Saint Anselm
- Salve Regina University
- Simmons University
- Suffolk University
- Union College
- University of Massachusetts, Boston
- University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
- University of Massachusetts, Lowell
- Utica College
- Westfield State University
Arlington School students come from numerous school systems and varying backgrounds. To meet the needs of students entering the Arlington School at different times in their high school careers, individual transcripts are assessed on a regular basis to determine grade level and classes appropriate for scheduling. Academic course subjects have continuity as students advance levels from year to year. Elective courses do not have levels, and course options vary each year.
We offer high school classes aligned to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. More information on curriculum can also be found in the Arlington School Course Catalog and Program Guide found in the Publications section.
English Language Arts
In the English classroom, the student and the teacher are partners in the learning process. Together we learn how to ask questions, how to participate and listen in group discussions, how to examine ideas with increasing depth, and how to expand our individual reference points to take in new ideas and better understand the complexity of connections between literature and life.
Recognizing that success in the math classroom is dependent on practice and the mastery of concepts in sequence, students are provided with the opportunity to work within an individualized curriculum that addresses their level of knowledge, skill, and ability. While many students move forward at grade level in math, the curriculum can also be designed to address remedial and enrichment needs when appropriate.
Our history courses help students understand the larger significance of the great discoveries, conflicts, and ideas that continue to shape our world and our future. A major focus of the study of history and social science at the Arlington School is the development of skills that enable our students to become life-long learners and contribute positively to their community, nation, and planet.
Our science teachers utilize a diverse methodology of instruction, incorporating interactive technologies, multisensory learning, and various texts to create a comfortable learning environment for participating in class discussions and for working independently. Options for science classes include general sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, forensics, and anatomy and physiology.
Art, Media, and Photography
The goal of the fine arts program at Arlington School is to provide each student with an appropriate level of challenge, given his or her background, interests, and abilities. In addition to producing art, music, and/or dramatic pieces, students are encouraged to reflect on their own process and progress, and to develop a portfolio of work that reflects their individual talents and interests.
The physical education program promotes physical fitness and emotional well-being. Students participate in group activities, weight training, and fitness instruction in a flexible and supportive environment. Students have access to cardio machines and weights, a basketball court, walking paths, and fitness tools.
Arlington School offers introductory courses in French and Greek.
French courses introduce students to the French culture by learning vocabulary, grammar, and syntax through reading, listening to and singing contemporary songs, watching movies, and conducting conversations.
The main objective of the Greek course is to help students obtain a taste of the Greek culture and language and become proficient in modern conversational Greek.
We offer many elective courses that let students move beyond the regular curriculum and prepare for life after high school. Electives vary from year to year, depending on student interest and teacher availability.
This course helps students prepare for the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), an exam designed to test a student’s ability to answer questions on what they have learned in 9th and 10th grades. Passing the MCAS is a graduation requirement for public schools in the state of Massachusetts. Students who perform well on this test currently have the potential to receive scholarship money to state universities.
SAT & PSAT Preparation
This course helps students prepare for the PSAT and practice for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). The SAT is a test that many colleges use in their evaluation of applicants for admission. Other tests, such as the ACT (American College Testing), can also be prepared for in this class.
In this elective, students practice a wide variety of rhetorical forms across the disciplines to better prepare for the expectations and demands of a college composition course.
Film (English Department)
Films are studied as an artistic experience, like a novel or play. Discussion topics include style, techniques, problems in acting, focus, montage, image framing, directing, continuity, themes, and settings of film in intellectual history. In addition to class discussion, students produce essays about each film.
Film (Media Arts Department)
This film class views clips and entire films from a variety of genres, including comedy, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and classics. Students participate in film discussions and then apply their knowledge through quizzes and the creation of posters and other media to represent their understanding of each work. Class time can also be used to support students’ independent film projects for submission to college art programs.
Forensic science introduces the fundamental concepts of crime scene investigation and forensic analysis of evidence and their application to the justice system and the law. Emphasis is placed on evaluating the role and importance of each type of evidence to determine the who, what, and how of a crime.
This hands-on gardening course was conceived as a way for students to appreciate the wonder of fresh food.
Interactive science encourages scientific exploration without the rigors associated with a traditional science elective. Students are assessed based on their contribution to the curriculum, attendance, and the logic associated with their interactive discussions.
The media class combines computer, video, and photography mediums. Students become familiar with the operations of graphic programs on iMacs, digital cameras, and peripherals. Students also have the option to create work for their portfolios, posters for school activities, and participate in art contests.
Students learn about and perform instrumental music, choral music, improvisation, and theatrical works. They learn how to read tablature and sheet music, play basic chords and rhythms on a variety of instruments, and learn the mechanics of singing and vocal technique. They also engage in improvisational theater exercises, learn basic acting techniques, practice monologues, and work together to produce a play.
This course is designed to help students gain an understanding of the basic principles and practices of money management, credit, savings, investments, taxation, insurance, and consumer protection. Students engage in many activities, such as building a personal budget, managing a checking account, and making loan applications.
This course introduces students to traditional concerns within the philosophic canon. Students read primary texts and discuss them in relation to conventional and current understanding of ideas, society, personality, and lived experience.
Photography is divided into two areas: the technical and the aesthetic. Students learn the workings of a film camera and a digital camera, develop their own negatives, and work in the darkroom to make prints.
Though all students participate in a weekly physical education class, students can also choose physical education as a daily elective.
Students study the content of the mind and human behavior, as well as learn thinking skills that help navigate real-life problems. Course topics include history and perspectives, nature/nurture, life span development, the brain and biological bases of behavior, perception, learning, memory, sleep, language development, intelligence, personality, and the treatment of psychological disorders.
The research curriculum is designed to create 21st century learners who can use research skills when searching for a variety of informational needs. Students engage in basic research and time-management skills necessary to produce long-term projects such as research papers, PowerPoint projects, and oral presentations.
Sewing and Knitting
Students design and sew dresses, skirts, costumes, toys, camping gear, and backpacks for this elective. They also knit or crochet socks, hats, and mittens. Students sometimes volunteer their skills to support school-wide events.
In the studio art course, students explore different media and topics, with the goal of covering six to eight topics over the course of a two-year period. Past topics have included drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry making, and graphic design.
Over the course of a semester, students work together to develop the Arlington School yearbook. Students use Photoshop to combine and edit images, create a cover for the yearbook, brainstorm ideas for new pages, and get all aspects of the book ready for printing.
Clinical Support & Services
Clinical services are an integral part of the Arlington School program and can include individual school counseling, clinical case management, weekly counseling groups, psychiatric consultation from McLean Hospital experts, and additional support, as needed.
Each student benefits from a clinical case manager who helps them reach social and emotional goals. Students meet with their case managers for individual weekly counseling sessions. Additional therapeutic “check-ins” are available throughout the day and week as the need arises.
The clinical case management team includes a clinical psychologist, three social workers, and graduate-level interns from various disciplines. The team has access to experts from McLean Hospital and elsewhere who provide consultation and professional development to help staff address the needs of the students.
The clinical staff also works closely with outside therapists, families, schools, and community agencies to address the academic, emotional, and behavioral problems that have disrupted a student’s previous education.
Clinicians focus on helping students make developmentally appropriate progress on self-awareness, social awareness, and healthy decision-making skills. They consider the intellectual, social, physical, aesthetic, emotional, and ethical development of each student from the time of intake throughout that student’s tenure at the school.
Students participate in weekly counseling groups co-led by clinicians to foster skill improvement, social connections, and communication. Group offerings vary by year, with topics that serve the current student population. Dependent on interest, we also offer a clinician-led support group for parents.
Faculty and staff are also trained in mindfulness techniques, which are used in counseling groups to decrease student anxiety and promote attention and focus.
The school nurse oversees the health needs of students, provides individual health instruction, performs routine screenings, and administers students’ medication. McLean Hospital’s nursing and medical staff and the doctor on call are always available for emergency medical services.
As required by the Massachusetts DESE, the Arlington School requires each high school student to take one semester of health class during their high school career. In addition, the onsite school nurse and the physical education specialist work closely to provide academic instruction in health and fitness, as well as skills to develop healthy lifestyles and improved coping strategies.
Our admission procedure is designed to ensure that students who enroll at the Arlington School are appropriately placed. We work to assure that the student and school are well matched, both academically and clinically.
Students, parents, therapists, and school systems interested in Arlington School admissions are welcome to contact Suzanne Loughlin, APRN, BC, director, at 617.855.2124.
In general, the length of enrollment depends on when a student enrolls. When students come to the Arlington School in the upper grades, they often finish their high school careers here. If they have started in the earlier grades, some return to their public high schools or transition to a small private school.
We also offer 45-day assessment placements when space is available. These students are integrated into our general student population.
To ensure a timely admission process, an interview can usually be scheduled within a week, followed by a class visit several days later. A decision on admission can usually be made within 24 hours of the school visit.
The admission process typically begins when we receive a referral packet from the out-of-district coordinator of the student’s local public school.
A referral packet generally includes:
- Individual education program (IEP)
- Recent psychological or neuropsychological testing
- Other evaluations, such as speech and language evaluations, reading assessments, etc.
- Treatment summaries
- Admission and discharge notes from recent hospitalizations, if relevant
Our director, educational administrator, and designated clinicians review the referral packet to determine whether the student is likely to benefit from the Arlington School experience. We are mindful that paperwork does not always accurately describe a student’s strengths.
We invite the student and parents to come for an interview and tour of the school. The tour covers a variety of topics, including learning style, academic interests, peer relationships, safety issues, coping strategies, and a willingness to work toward goals. If it is determined that the school is a good fit, the student is invited to attend a half-day of classes and a clinical interview.
Following a successful school visit, we advise the family and referring school system whether their student is invited to attend the Arlington School. If an invitation is accepted, a placement agreement is signed and the student is enrolled.
We are not able to offer tuition assistance. In most cases, tuition is paid for by referring school districts. However, some families will privately pay the tuition. Those families are required by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) regulations to pay the same tuition rate that school systems are charged. Because we are an academic institution, health insurance does not cover tuition.