Neurobiology with Northeastern

This semester at St. Augustine and St. Martin’s we have partnered with Northeastern University’s Neurobiology class. Four students come in every Tuesday to teach our youth about how our brains function with our bodies. Last week, our students learned about density and our older group was able to make lava lamps. They learned about density through water and oil and how they separate from one another. The NEU class is amazing and our youth are enjoying what they learn every Tuesday! Thank you NEU!

By Madelon Morin, Site Manager for LEARN at St. Augustine and St. Martin's


Red for more than just Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine's Day, but we wear red for other reasons: we’re angry. And powerful. On Wednesday, February 7th, St. Stephen’s parents were a sea of red in the first two rows of the School Committee meeting. One-by-one, they were called up to give testimony. Each had their own twist on a common demand: ask the Mayor for more funding for public schools.

Karina focused her testimony on students with special needs: “¿Cómo podemos escoger entre terapia del habla y terapia de alimentación, cuando se necesitan los dos?”, she asked. “How can we choose between speech therapy and feeding therapy, when we need both?”

Isabel spoke of her own challenge getting an education growing up in a small town in the Dominican Republic, where she would climb on milk crates to see over the walls of the schoolhouse and listen in on the lessons. “Yo quiero dar a mi hija un futuro mejor,” she said. “I want to give my daughter a better future.”

Mayra was the last of our parents to speak, but her testimony was perhaps the most fitting.  “Cuando mis niños iniciaron la escuela me sentí muy contenta porque tenia programación en espanol e ingles. Pero en este momento por el presupuesto, sabemos que faltan fondos para todos los programas que necesitamos.” “When my children started school I felt happy because they were learning Spanish and English. But now because of the budget, we are missing funds for all the programs we need.”

Indeed, it was clear that the Boston Public Schools are sorely lacking when it comes to supporting students and families who speak languages other than English. Despite two weeks notice and a promise of interpretation from the School Committee, there was no interpreting equipment to be found. After a big fuss from us, several assistant superintendents scurrying all around the building, and the interpreter standing helpless at the back of the room, the District was unable to find any equipment.

So despite the fact that BPS proudly states on its website that, “Nearly one in every two students speaks a language other than English at home,” we were left asking ourselves if they truly care about these parent’s voices.

But I’m pretty sure these parent are going to make their voices heard anyways. Loud and clear.

By Ariel Branz, Senior Parent Organizer. To get involved, contact


Falling into College & Career: A Trimester in Review

This Fall, St. Stephen’s took another step forward with our College & Career program. The vision of the program is to make sure that every student graduates from high school with a clear post-secondary plan that fits their academic, financial, social and emotional needs. We do this by focusing on increasing opportunities for our teens to learn about the variety of different options that are out there for them. This fall was one of our most successful semesters ever, and exemplified our effort to provide unique experiences, healthy adult relationships, and holistic ongoing support for our teens.We think about our college and career program not only in terms of college access and helping students get into college, but also helping to ensure that our students are successfully graduating from college. One way that we are doing this is by building out our alumni program to reflect the growing financial, academic and professional needs of our alums. Below you will see not only some of our highlights from the fall, but also some of our exciting new opportunities this spring.

Fall Highlights:

College Access:

  • 21 C&C Seniors

  • 22 High School Mentor Pairs

  • 7 Colleges Visited (UNH, Wellesley, U-Mass, Lesley, Bridgewater, Northeastern, Brown)

  • 8 College Prep Classes for Seniors

  • 3 Career Panels focusing on careers in medicine, criminal justice and engineering

  • College and Career Days for both Elementary and Middle School Programs

College Success:

  • 87 Alumni Connected w/ this Fall

  • 4 Teen/Alumni Game Nights

  • Over $3,000 awarded to alumni for books, fees and other college expenses

Coming this Spring:

This spring we are thinking creatively about how we can provide new and exciting opportunities for all our teens by creating new strategic partnerships.

February Break College & Career Trip:

  • For the first time ever, we will lead a weeklong trip for sophomore and juniors to visit New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia where students will visit 7 colleges, meet with young professionals from a variety of different fields, and engage in cultural activities.

Building Bridges Across Difference:

  • We are working to build bridges in our communities through new partnerships. One example is a growing partnership with the Ellis Neighborhood Association Young Professional group as we work to create new networking opportunities between our alumni and young professionals.

Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships:

  • We understand the growing difficulties of affording college, and so we work with our teens and alums on scholarships (both locally and nationally), as well as work with neighborhood associations, partners like uAspire, and generous donors; all with the goal of helping students fill the gap.

As we embark on this next step in our journey, we continue to look for individuals and organizations that want to partner with us in moving from Access to Success. If you are interested in getting more involved, or finding more about our program, please feel free to reach out to Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success at

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amorty, Sr. Manager of College Access and Success

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Equity in Education Helps Advance the Legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, January 15, St. Stephen's Youth Programs leaders and volunteers led our 8th Annual MLK Day of Action at not one but TWO schools!

With the help of close to 210 volunteers, the Blackstone Innovation School and the Josiah Quincy Upper School have clean halls and classrooms, bright murals showing school pride, and new academic materials ready for student learning. Volunteers representing thirty community and faith-based organizations came together to reflect on the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By working side-by-side, we took action to create a more equitable public education system. After lunch at the Blackstone School, we were joined by Jessica Tang, President of the Boston Teacher's Union Local 66, who inspired us to understand that working for educational equity is one of the most important ways to create racial equity.

As we know, action days and service projects are just the start. Students in Boston (and across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) need and deserve a fully-funded and equitable public education system. The current state funding formula for public education has not been updated since 1993 (back when AOL was the email server used by most people!)! 

It is time for to bring public school funding into the 21st century. Fortunately, State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz has proposed a bill to do just this.  Please call your State Senator and Representative,  tell them why you care about high-quality, fully-funded public education, and ask them to move Bill S.223 and Bill S.220 out of committee! SSYP's intergenerational team of organizers are also working on a campaign to increase PILOT from local colleges and universities; this increased revenue will help bridge the gap in funding for Boston's public schools. 

To get involved at  the Blackstone, either as a library or classroom volunteer, please contact

By Maureen Burns, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships


Painting on Painting on Partnerships

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This past Fall, St. Stephen’s worked with both new and long-term partners to create fun, engaging, and meaningful service days. For many people, the idea of a one time service project can feel like it lacks the long term impact that volunteers hope to bring to organizations through volunteering. At St. Stephen’s, we see these service days as unique opportunities for organizations to come learn about St. Stephen’s, engage in work projects, and most importantly form relationships with our young people and staff, all with the goal of creating a two-way learning opportunity for everyone involved. This fall we hosted three specific days of service which sum up this concept.

Our first project brought with it an amazing group of volunteers from Wellesley College during their Freshman Orientation. Over 20 Wellesley students came to St. Stephen’s and worked with staff to build a new basketball hoop, paint the outdoor maze, four square court and front office, and create wonderful academic resources and posters to help with our program. Students not only participated in service projects, but also met with staff to better understand St. Stephen’s, and learned about the many ways they can get involved during their four years at Wellesley College.

The second project came through our ever-growing partnership with Northeastern University. This year the Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting was hosted on the Northeastern Campus and brought hundreds of students from all over the world to Boston. This three day conference culminated with a day of service on Sunday, October 15th. St. Stephen’s was selected as one of the host sites for this amazing event. We had almost 200 student and staff volunteers from Northeastern spend their Sunday morning at both our St. Stephen’s and St. Augustine & St. Martin sites. These volunteers engaged in projects led by both SSYP staff and teens. Volunteers painted libraries, offices, and the JCIT 9th grade space. They helped clean up and winterize the gardens at St. Augustine and St. Martin and the Blackstone school, painted inspirational murals that highlighted the themes from the past four years, and even built a brand new folding desk for our teens. The day was summed up in witnessing one of our superstar teens leading a group of 25 volunteers from all over the world in the reorganizing and repainting of the library at St. Stephen’s.

The final service day of the fall was with Loomis Sayles, a new partner this year. The volunteers were from the Women’s Executive Leadership Group, and came with the intention of not only participating in a meaningful service project, but also having a chance to engage in real conversations with staff, teens and our participants. The volunteers took a tour of the building and immediately jumped right into the project of repainting our enrichment center, while simultaneously painting two beautiful murals, (both filled with inspirational quotes) that were inspired and sketched by our Art Specialist Vicky and some of our students. Once they cruised through this project, volunteers jumped into our program and worked with students on homework, read with our students, and engaged in meaningful conversations with young people of all ages. Our volunteers, staff and students all walked away with the feeling that this was a growing partnership with lots of possibilities and hope going forward.

We continue to be interested in learning more about other organizations, corporations, and schools that might be interested in partnering to create an experience that will be meaningful for everyone. If you think that you want to learn more about these different possibilities, please reach out to Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory at

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access and Success

Speed Networking at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs

One of the goals of St. Stephen’s growing alumni program is to help connect alums with professionals from different fields. Through these opportunities we hope alums will not only network and build new relationships, but use every conversation to think critically about their own future goals. On January 16th, St. Stephen’s capitalized on our growing partnership with the Ellis Neighborhood Association Young Professional group to provide a brand new networking roundtable event for our alums and seniors. Over 20 recent alums and high school seniors sat down to talk with professionals from business, non-profit, public health, art and international policy fields. The professionals facilitated small group discussions while the aluni rotated around the room so that they were able to talk to each professional about their experiences. Discussions included the educational and professional journeys of the young professionals, as well as an opportunity for the alums to talk about their own passions and dreams.

This was the first time that St. Stephen’s has hosted a specific networking event for our alums, and due to its success we are excited to host several more this spring. This means we will be looking for other professionals to come and talk with our teens about their journeys, and help our teens think through their own passions. If this interests you, reach out to Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory at

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access and Success

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“Pass the banana!” and Other Tales from English Conversation Group

Every once in a while, the stars align. That’s what happened back in October when my phone rang with an unknown number. Lydia, the woman on the other line, was enthusiastic: “I want to volunteer for your English Classes!” “That’s wonderful,” I told her, “Except that they don’t really exist yet. Our parents have been asking for it, but I haven’t had the capacity. But if you’re in, I’m in.”

We were in.

She recruited a handful of English Speaker volunteers (shout-out to Helen, Jane, and Chris!) from the neighborhood and I recruited a handful of English Learner parents from our programs. Lydia wasn’t afraid to break the ice at our first Conversation Group by pulling a banana out of her bag and playing “Pass the banana!” Soon everyone was laughing.

For eight weeks, as the days grew shorter and colder, parents and volunteers gathered together and spoke English. They discussed Parent-Teacher conferences, holidays, greetings, and so much more. The last week they celebrated with a potluck and parents shared their talents. One parent explained how to make egg salad-- with beets! Another demonstrated how to cut paper snowflakes. Yet another brought his guitar and serenaded the group.

The celebration, of course, would not have been complete without parents piping up, “Pass the banana!”

By Ariel Branz, Senior Parent Organizer
Parent Conversation Groups start up again at the end of January- contact Ariel at to get involved!


Fund Public Education!

Teen organizers delivered a loud and clear message to Northeastern University last week with a banner drop in the Curry Student Center. As the banner unfurled over the 2nd story ledge, students asked those present in the Campus Center to join them in demanding that Northeastern University pay the $13 million it had committed to as part of the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program.

PILOT stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes. It is a program that compensates the government for tax revenue lost due to tax-exempt ownership. In this case, we are asking the wealthiest  non-profits in Boston (mostly hospitals or universities) to pay the amount of property taxes the city has assessed as a fair payment. If Northeastern and other Boston universities pay their PILOT fees, it could lead to a fully-funded public education and enable students enrolled in Boston Public Schools (BPS) get the sort of education that would enable them to attend  Northeastern or a college of similar caliber.

At St. Stephen’s Youth Programs (SSYP), we care about PILOT because we want our schools to be fully funded. Most schools in Boston do not have enough money to cover the basic resources necessary to provide students with an adequate education. Wealthy universities like Harvard and Northeastern have not complied with their commitment to pay the city their full PILOT amount. Students who graduate from BPS are not prepared to attend those universities because of the classes and other things  that are missing from their public high school education. SSYP is joining with Boston Teachers Union, BEJA, and other organizations who are asking for those universities to be our partners in fully funding public education so that Boston’s students can succeed.

PILOT would benefit all our BPS schools because it would increase the pool of resources funding our public education system. This would mean Boston’s young people could attend schools that have the budgets they need to deliver a the kind of education our students and communities deserve.

The St. Stephen’s Community Organizers held a workshop to educate community members about PILOT at the Blackstone School and with the YLC program at SSYP by playing a game that simulated the kinds of heart-breaking budget decisions facing school leadership, like whether to pay for a full time school nurse or maintain the aging building or sufficiently fund support for English Language Learners or students with IEPs. Middle schoolers and MLK Day of action volunteers alike were frustrated by the impossible task of funding a school’s essential requirements on a very limited budget.

Many of our city’s institutions that claim to care about education. To join us in pressuring these universities to contribute the the vitality of our public education, please contact SSYP teen organizing coordinator Sarah O’Connor at

By Angie Hyppolite, Valentina Pedroza Munoz, Christopher Morales, Nikkia Jean Charles, MIchelle Mejia and Ekran Sharif, Teen Organizers


Social and Emotional Support

This year St. Stephen’s has integrated a social and emotional support (SES) team into the program to provide our students with individual and group-based support. The SES team has been running health and wellness groups as well as art therapy groups with our youth and teens, which incorporate activities that strengthen and develop skills around self care, stress management, mindfulness, and healthy relationships, among other things. During art therapy groups, the JCITs participate in activities using creative expression and activities to empower students, promote creativity and explore abstract ideas like social injustices, and personal passions.  The YLCs have been creating community art projects in order to enhance the aesthetic of their space.  Activities with the JCIT’s have included things such as group poems, group mandalas, dream catchers, and cards.  The YLCs have added prayer flags to their room that hold their well wishes and intentions for the space they meet in every afternoon.  YLCs often assist in decorating signs and murals in their space.  For example, they hand picked role model David Ortiz to be sketched and painted in by volunteers.  Currently, we are working on creating a selfie station in the YLC room.  Working on these projects has excited, empowered, and encouraged students to be creative and passionate members of St. Stephen’s community.

By SES Team Members, Gabriella, Abigail, Kayleigh, and Eugenia

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Kidding Around

Emerson College's Kidding Around children's theater group hosted a production for St. Stephen's YLC called "And Then Came Tango" at the Blackstone Community Center. "And Then Came Tango" tells a story about love, family and standing up for your beliefs. The play is inspired by the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins living at the Central Park Zoo who formed a pair bond, built a nest, and were so determined to be parents that they incubated a rock. When given an orphaned egg, the pair successfully raised a baby fledgling. 

This original work celebrates families of all shapes and sizes and teaches audiences what it means to have agency and be an activist. All of our middle school students and members of the Emerson community were in attendance, including students, faculty and families. After the show the cast hosted a talk back. 

We are thankful for the Emerson Community and the dialogue they facilitated surrounding career exploration and identity for our young people. 

Miss it? Don't worry, they'll be back in Spring!

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By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator

Brain Power! The Blackstone Library at Family Wellness Night

The Blackstone Library was thrilled to be a part of this year’s Family Wellness Night at the Blackstone Innovation School!  The Blackstone Library is a project that is coordinated by St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, which provides paid staff, trains volunteers, and leverages resources to help the library be a top-notch place for literacy growth. During Wellness Night, Blackstone families took part in yoga classes taught by Blackstone teachers, played basketball with the gym coaches, grabbed a healthy burrito dinner, ate some fresh food from Whole Foods, and entered a raffle for the chance to ride home a bike!  

Best of all, thanks to the Blackstone Library, each student took home a book of their own!  In partnership with Trinity Church, Newton Centre, we selected a book for each grade level and a purchased a copy from Porter Square Books for each student in the school.  The book titles were selected by Tricia Harvey, SSYP’s Blackstone Library Coordinator, and Daryl Mark, a key Blackstone Library Volunteer who is the retired Coordinator of the Cambridge Public Library’s Youth Services.  Daryl spearheaded the book giveaway project by writing a grant proposal to her church, Trinity Episcopal in Newton Centre.  When children saw the signs outside the library saying “Take Home a Free Book,” their jaws dropped open.  They happily pointed out their names on their class list to receive their book.  Many Blackstone students were excited to see their library volunteer outside of the regular school day hours and to introduce their parent to their library teacher.  The books that were not given away during Wellness Night were given to teachers to distribute in their classrooms.  Teachers and students alike were excited to receive their own books!  On arrival at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs B-READY Afterschool Program, Blackstone students were proud to share their new books with SSYP staff members during literacy and homework time.

To volunteer or learn more about the Blackstone Library, contact Tricia at  You can also support the library by donating a book from our Wish List, found online at Porter Square Books:

Be sure to mention in the Order Comments section that you are ordering for Blackstone Library to receive a 10% discount!  No need to worry about shipping: Once you've selected your book(s), choose "In-store Pick-up" as the delivery option and we'll take it from there.

By Maureen Burns, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships

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Climbing to new heights


Our new playground is a huge hit!  This fall, thanks to the generosity of the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, St. Paul's in Natick, and the Marion L. DeCrow Memorial Foundation, we installed an amazing new playground structure in our backyard and surrounded it with a beautiful new fence.  For me, this is the fulfillment of a dream: a safe, fun, challenging play space for the young people who spend time here every day of the week all year round.  If you haven't seen it, please stop by and check it out.  There's are elements of a climbing wall and a ropes course, along with a tall slide and peg ladders.  There's even a picnic table.  Young people of all ages are having a blast and getting some exercise in the process.  The playground is the final piece in a major capital renovation that included building an office addition and renovating the main floor of our parish house from front to back - new kitchen and bathroom, expanded parish hall, new entrance and windows.  Many thanks to the all those whose generosity made this importation work possible!  

By Tim Crellin, Executive Director


A Commitment to be a Lifelong Learner: Illustrator Eric Velasquez Visits the Fourth Grade

“I’m asking you to make a promise: to be lifelong learners.”  Before leaving the fourth grade classroom, Eric Velasquez gave the students this challenge.  “Go home tonight,” he continued, “and visualize your future self.  Don’t call up your friend.  Leave the technology alone.  Instead, go to your library and read.  Read about what you want to be.”

Eric Velasquez spent the morning sharing his story and his work as an illustrator and author with the fourth grade students at the Blackstone Innovation School.  His story begins in Spanish Harlem, where he was born to Puerto Rican parents and spent his childhood enjoying Batman and James Bond. He even shared photos of himself dressed in costumes that he would wear year-round!  Eric’s love of the original Avengers, Archie, and Batman comics helped him fall in love with storytelling.  His favorite character of all was T’challa, the Black Panther, a member of the original Avengers.  When Eric explained that T’challa, the King of Wakanda, is richer than Tony Stark (Iron Man), the class let out an audible gasp of surprise.  “The best thing about the Black Panther,” he went on to explain, “is that he looked like me when he took his mask off.”  When he would come across unfamiliar words in his comics, Eric would ask his mother.  Instead of giving him the answer, she would tell him, “Mira en el diccionario” (“Look in the dictionary”).  It was also during this time that Eric’s mother began to foster his love of drawing.  However, reading was a skill that did not come easily to Eric and he described being in Reading Group C during his time in early elementary school.  Yet, he was not discouraged and learned that reading was an important skill that required time.  

In high school, Eric learned that reading was not the only ability that would take time and practice.  He tried to join the school’s comic illustration group, comprised of the best artists in the school, but he was rejected.  Disappointed, but not discouraged, Eric took the advice of one of the group leaders.  In order to become a better artist, he needed to learn how to render form, and in order to do that, he would need to learn to paint.  With that, Eric joined a student painting group that met daily early before school.  After high school, Eric attended the School of Visual Arts and started working as an illustrator right out of college.  

As Eric shared a few of his numerous book covers, the fourth grade teachers excitedly recognized the Encylopedia Brown while the class remained lost on this piece of early 90s nostalgia.  

When asked why he became an illustrator, Eric Velasquez said that he fell in love with storytelling and wanted to do just that.  To share his creative process with the class, Eric told a story of his own.  Grandma’s Records was the first book Eric authored in addition to illustrating. While he shared his story of traveling to his Grandma's apartment on weekends,  Eric played salsa and merengue music and even danced while the students marveled at his story and illustrations.  Eric shared the covers of other books he has illustrated, including stories about Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, and Harry Houdini and well as jazz and the Underground Railroad, among many other stories.  However, the classes were most excited to learn that Eric illustrated two books written by Martin Luther King’s niece!  Finally, Eric described his creative process that produced his new book, Schomburg, The Man who Built a Library.  He shared pictures of the book’s manuscript, the book dummy, even pictures of himself modeling for a picture he used to help paint the book cover!!  As Eric talked about the multiple drafts that are required to create to paintings for the book, the teachers’ ears perked up.  “We are learning about the writing process,” the teacher explained, “and it is great to hear someone else share the importance of making multiple drafts!”

To close out his presentation, Eric showed off his illustration skills!  In each class, a student was selected to model and Eric drew his or her portrait.  While Eric drew, the class was held in captivation.  The students excitedly recognized the guidelines Eric drew to help shape the portrait-- they had learned the same technique in their art class!  While he drew, Eric encouraged the students to ask questions.  Some students were concerned about his level of fame and some asked about his skills.  “Practice, practice, practice.  I draw every day.  Even if I take a few days off, my drawing skills become rusty,” Eric told them.  Finally, Eric spoke to the importance of reading and writing in all careers.  “Reading and writing has made me a better artist,” he explained.  “If I couldn’t write, I would not have been able to write the essays that got me into art school.  If I couldn’t read, I couldn’t research and learn more about the topics that inspire me to make my illustrations.”  Again, the teachers were all delighted by his message!  

Eric Velasquez’s visit to the Blackstone was made possible by Wondermore, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing authors and illustrators into under-resourced schools, and Porter Square Books, whose donation provided each fourth grade student copy of Eric’s book The Sweet Smell of Roses.  Finally, a huge thank you to Eric Velasquez for sharing his time, his stories, and his talents with the fourth grade and for personally signing a book for each student!

By Maureen Burns, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships


Let’s Go Huskies

Amongst all of the wonderful support and volunteers at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, this year we partnered with new classes at Northeastern University here at our St. Augustine and St. Martin site. We have biology lessons every Tuesday, a “Magic Math Class” every other Monday, and a nutrition class that is coming once a month this trimester! Our youth have learned so much from the NEU students! Not only is great learning happening here, but the students are having so much fun. They learned about germs & genetic traits through blacklights & bingo, how to play “extreme” tic tac toe and do card tricks through math, and how to fuel our bodies through healthy food! We are having SO much fun with our new NEU friends!

By Madelon Morin, Site Manager at St. Augustine and St. Martin's


SSYP Intergenerational Organizing Team takes State House by Storm

By: Valentina and Michelle (SSYP Teen Organizers)

On Tuesday, November 14th, 2017- the last day of the legislative session before Thanksgiving break- 20 parent and teen organizers from St. Stephen’s Youth Programs organized a lobby day at the Massachusetts State House to advocate for full funding for public education across the state.

 PHOTO: Intergenerational Organizing team meeting with State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, author of the Bill to Modernize the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century

PHOTO: Intergenerational Organizing team meeting with State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, author of the Bill to Modernize the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century

We were advocating to get Senate Bill 223 out of committee. Senate Bill 223 is constructed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz to modernize the “Foundation Budget” which is being used to “fund school districts across the Commonwealth, based on the circumstances and needs of each student”. Sadly it has not been updated since 1993 and is not adequately funding public education across the state as it should. Researchers have found that Massachusetts has a deficit of $1-2 billion each year for the cost of K-12 education. This results in particular deficits for schools with high concentrations of students from low income backgrounds, students with IEPs and English Language Learners.

As parents and students, we think this bill is important because everyone deserves high quality education. When schools are not able to provide the resources that young people need to succeed, each child is being deprived of a chance to gain knowledge that can help them in their future. Cutting the arts out of the curriculum can diminish a student's creativity and shrink their horizons, not having a full time school nurse is a threat to the health and safety of students, and rodent infestations are not conducive to healthy learning environments. These examples of the results of budget cuts are not up to the school. Because of the lack of funding, schools have to choose between vital resources, like ELL classes or Special Education classes, nurses or art teachers, infrastructure maintenance and improvement or guidance counselors. Our communities deserve schools that don’t have to choose between necessary elements of a high quality public education.

Parents, teens, and elementary-school-aged children came together and met with the offices of 19 legislators and delivered letters to the other 21 legislators who are either on the Education Committee or represent a part of Boston. The campaign is not over yet- people can get involved by calling their State Senators and Representatives in support of the bill and asking them to please approve and get the bill out of committee. Contact Sarah ( at St.Stephen’s Youth Program to get involved in this campaign or to organize a lobby day.

Read us next week for a special feature, “If State Legislators get to leave work at 5pm, why can’t we?”

To Art, or Not to Art…There is No Question


The creative arts were always a staple in my life. Growing up there were dance lessons, creative arts camps, musical instruments, and eventually performing arts high school. Given this, it has always been hard to wrap my mind around hearing youth who say that they hate art or aren’t good at it.  I noticed that when they say this...often what they mean is that they “can’t draw”.

Upon noting that there was a gap in the youth’s understanding of art, one of the first activities my Creative Arts students did was answer the intentionally broad question “what is art?”. The first round of answers yielded the more obvious suggestions like drawing, painting, and collage. But after more pressing they were able to open their minds to come up with things like gardening, rhythmic gymnastics, playing an instrument, and make-up. The point was to stress that art does not solely equate to drawing ability and to cut out the mentality that they weren’t good artists.  

The concept of art is nearly immeasurable and there are very few (if any) guidelines for what art can be. So whether or not they know it, everyone has the capacity to be an artist in some form. The disconnect between my students and art only showed me that they haven’t been exposed to enough of it in school or at home.


This trimester in Creative Arts the youth are learning about apparel design and transforming into fledgling fashion designers. The curriculum takes an art form that is not usually covered in school and encourages them to take their inspiration from concept to design with a focus on originality. This curriculum focuses on project-based learning, with each lesson giving them one component of a larger end result. The idea is to get away from the “craft-a-day” style of teaching and let them develop strong skills and understanding of one particular art form at a time.

With students ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade there is a lot of disparity in learning styles, attention span, and general interest in any topic. My classes tend to run most smoothly when the youth are actually doing something hands on that incorporates the kinesthetic and tactile style of learning into the classroom. This can be found in activities like playing a game to introduce a topic or learning about textiles by creating a weaving sample on a handmade loom. The end result is a classroom of kids being actively engaged, creative, and productively learning a new art concept.

Boston Public Schools has created the BPS Art Expansion effort to address the deficit and expand quality arts education in Boston’s public school system. They have reported, in 2017, that 95% of BPS students Pre-K - 8th grade are receiving weekly arts programming in schools (a 28% increase from 2009). There has also been a direct link between students who are engaged in art performing better academically, particularly in math and science. This being said, art education is still not seen as a priority in many schools and is usually the first programming to get cut when the budget gets tight. It is seen as non-essential compared to other subjects, but I believe that art should be at the core of education along with math, science, and reading.


In the future of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, I hope to see an expansion of their creative arts curriculum.  I would love to see enough funding to allow for projects that delve into music technology, pottery/sculpture, woodworking, choreography, and full stage productions of plays written by our youth or community members. I hope to see the creative arts specialty move into a slot that is seen just as vital as literacy and STEM programming.

At the beginning of this trimester, I had so many collective groans and sighs from students about being stuck in art class for 45 minutes. However, over the the past month or so I have been able to turn a lot of those groans and sighs into excited students practically falling over each other to show me what they created that day. One of the most unique traits of childhood is limitless imagination and I have seen evidence of this on a daily basis in my classes. But this imagination and creativity is like a muscle, that weakens over time without the effort to exercise it. It would be a disservice to our youth and our future not to help it to grow.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. “BPS Arts Expansion Overview.” BPS Arts, 2017.

  2. National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, "Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools." The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Accessed October 21, 2017.

  3. "Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education", OECD Publishing, 2011. Web Accessed October 23, 2017.

By Victoria Ajene, Arts Specialist


Victoria Ajene is a 26-year old fashion designer and alumni of the B-SAFE Program. She grew up in the arts, attending Boston Arts Academy for Instrumental Music and Lasell College to receive her B.A. in Fashion Design and Production. After college she freelanced as a designer for PUMA and J.Jill and later went on to teach at Lasell College as an adjunct professor. What she hopes to bring to the program is a sense of community and an outlet that encourages kids to explore their creative sides.

Starting with PULSE

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Our afterschool year started on September 18th when all of our kids either returned to our site or started afterschool for the first time with us. However, I like to think that we do not officially begin until our PULSE students join our team. 

PULSE is a year long class in Boston College where students study a combination of theology and philosophy. This class has a service component where students have to complete 8 hours a week in a community program. This year, we are fortunate enough to welcome 16 students to our team of volunteers without whom we could not make our program happen. Each student is assigned a group either in LEARN (elementary school) or YLC (middle school) to assist the lead counselor and to form connections with the youth. 


So far, our 16 students have familiarized themselves with the youth in their groups and some have even taken the initiative to run activities with the kids. It is so nice to see how our kids quickly accept the PULSErs, as we call them, and welcome them into their world, while at the same time seeing the PULSErs quickly warm up to the kids. 

By Sandy Quispe, Site manager at St. Stephen's LEARN

Sandy, born in Peru, has lived in Dorchester since the age of 5. She grew up in the Boston Public school system graduating from Boston Arts Academy. She attained her bachelor's in psychology from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Working with children has always been one of her passions. She loves to see how children grow and develop from early childhood to adolescence.

Family fitness and fun!

It's 3:55 p.m. and B-SAFE is swarming with the organized chaos of pickup. Counselors sign students out to their parents, teens hand out grapes and goldfish, and Sandy returns clothes and water bottles to their owners. But unbeknownst to many, B-SAFE is not over for the day. 

In a few minutes, parents begin filing in, laughing and greeting one another. It's time for Zumba class! On Tuesdays we have yoga for parents and on Thursdays we have Zumba. These biweekly classes offer parents a fun and relaxing respite from their daily routine. They're an opportunity to connect with one another and to get moving. In fact, we chose to do yoga and Zumba because our parent group voted for them!

We pump up the music, hit songs like "Despacito" echoing off the walls of the church basement. Our teacher, Hannah, dance-steps to the side and kicks her leg high in the air with the beat. Everyone else misses the kick and starts laughing. Soon we're all sweating, getting into the music. Some of the kids run in from childcare and join us for a song or two. A particularly excited 5-year-old begs Hannah to let her lead a dance, so after we're done Hannah lets her put on her requested song, Justin Bieber's "Sorry" and she leads us all in a baffling but energetic dance. 

After we're done, we bring out trays of fresh pineapple, mango, melon and berries. Everyone is chatting, discussing the best places to go swimming this summer. A mom asks who wants the bike her kids have outgrown. It's nearly 6 p.m. and I'm late for another meeting, so I let the parents know they can turn the lights out and shut the door when they're done. Clari smiles at me: "No te preocupes, estamos en nuestra casa," she says. "Don't worry, we're at home here."

Ariel Branz, Lead Parent Organizer

Ariel organizes parents at St. Stephen's Youth Programs and is excited about all the fun family engagement this summer. She likes hiking, cats, sweet potatoes, and summertime.

 Five-year-old Carmen leads us in Justin Bieber's "Sorry"

Five-year-old Carmen leads us in Justin Bieber's "Sorry"

 Parents relax with Yoga classes.

Parents relax with Yoga classes.

B-SAFE does BCH. Ending with a BOOM.

Last week at B-SAFE for the middle-schooler’s was just slightly different from the previous four. For starters, instead of field trips to Carson Beach or the Institute for Contemporary Art, we found ourselves swimming in Otter Lake and painting canvases of the trees and nature around us. We said goodbye to Dorchester and found ourselves at home in New Hampshire at the Barbara C. Harris camp for four nights and five days.

Campers were able to experience new levels of freedom here in New Hampshire. Each one chose two different activities from an extensive list of progression activities that they would participate in every morning, which allowed them to break off from their assigned cabins and surround themselves with new peers who shared similar interests. I taught the swimming progressions and really enjoyed working with young people who were enthusiastic about improving their swimming abilities.

In the afternoons, campers rotated through a variety of different activities including basketball, gaga ball, gimp, and more. The evenings were especially fun because the whole camp got together for evening activities like dance parties, camp fires and talents shows. Campers enjoyed all of the above, despite the frequent but unavoidable encounters with insects.

The last week of camp was a blast. The middle schoolers have been beyond fun to work with, and I hope their memories of BCH are as fond as mine. And overall, working with SSYP for the past 10 weeks as an intern and as a lead has been an eye opening experience to say the least. To work with a program that is so proactive in providing opportunities for young people is an honor and wherever I may work down the road will be held to high standards! 

By Sarah Schrading, A-TEAM and Lead Counselor

Sarah Schrading is a rising senior at Rutgers University studying Linguistics, Spanish and Psychology. She was born and raised in the city of Philadelphia. Sarah has been a part of service abroad trips in both El Salvador and Zimbabwe. Her hopes for the future involve pursuing a career in public service, specifically education policy. She enjoys world traveling, trying new things and Italian food.

Going high by building up our city

The theme of program this summer was “When they go low, we go high”. There are many ways that this theme can be interpreted. The youth at B-SAFE San Lucas took this theme to heart as they worked on their final projects in Humanities. They looked at their community and thought of ways that they could make it better. They worked in teams, thought of components that were missing in Chelsea, and then got to work.

They drafted and designed plans for a proposed construction project. They used recycled materials to build their models. For days they gathered materials from our site and brought recycled materials from home. They looked at an empty box of cereal and saw a lot more than that. Or an empty egg carton and their imagination let loose on the beauty that they could create from it. Things began to progress on their models with the sounds of gluing, duck taping, cutting cardboard, and even hammering being heard upstairs at San Lucas.

We then had the opportunity go on a field trip to MIT and enter their urban planning lab where we saw real life advanced technology versions of what they had been working on all summer. They saw models of the Kendall square using real life data from the everyday technology used by people in the community. They were amazed, impressed, but most of all inspired.

Back we went for the last week of program, and with the inspiration from their field trip, work began on finalizing and modifications. Though making models out of recycled materials sounds challenging, it was not as hard as writing a proposal letter to the City Manager. Each group had the opportunity to write a letter to the City of Chelsea in which they explained their proposal and expressed why it would be good for the community. They applied their knowledge of using the written language learned this summer in class and go to work. The letters that wrote were inspirational with many taking encouragement from the words of the Disney Family in creating a place “where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn – together”. Their letters were just as inspiring.

That is how “we go high”. We give our youth a voice in which they know that they can make their communities better. We spark their imagination to create wonderful things. We give them the opportunity to be examples and create selfless things because at the end all they want is for everyone to feel the same childlike joy they feel in their hearts by going high.

By Mauryn Perkins, Site Manager at San Lucas

Mauryn Perkins has been with the B-SAFE program in Chelsea for eight summers. During the school year she is a 7th grade Spanish teacher at a charter school in Malden. She loves teaching children and loves all things Disney. In her spare time, you will find her organizing and planning her family adventures, especially to Disney Parks.

 YLC youth from st. Luke's at the urban development media lab at MIT. 

YLC youth from st. Luke's at the urban development media lab at MIT. 

 Dragons present their development proposal to the City Manager of a Chelsea.

Dragons present their development proposal to the City Manager of a Chelsea.