College and Career at St. Stephen's: Age 5 through 25

College Access is a phrase that you are probably familiar with. Access to higher education has been a part of the national conversation for a better part of a decade, but how that plays out within different organizations and communities can vary greatly. Here at St. Stephen’s, we have made a commitment to expanding our programming related to college and career access and success. Our commitment lines up with our broader mission, to serve students age 5-25, and continue to support them and their families as they create a path towards a successful adulthood.

With that in mind, we have expanded our programming to include opportunities to expose elementary, middle school and high school students to the variety of different post-high school options that exist. Over the past three weeks, we have done activities specific to students in each of these age groups.

For our elementary students, we ran College and Career Fun Fridays at both our St. Stephen’s and St. A&M sites. These days focused on exposure to information through fun activities and games. Students played college and career jeopardy and bingo, had college-based relay races, designed their own schools and logos, and even learned how to Step with the Blackout Step Team from Tufts University. Students also participated in a photo project where they expressed their dreams for their future.

Our middle school students have a college and career day coming up, and also have gone on college visits with the intent of learning which options are available for them. On May 5th, the YLC travelled to Boston College, where they participated in a tour lead by the BC Pulse students who have been volunteering with our program all year.

With the addition of Bella Vidana, the Mass Promise Fellow running the Jr. Counselor in Training (JCIT) 9th grade program, College and Career continues to be a focus of their programming. Throughout this year the students have travelled to Tufts, Lesley and Northeastern, and have engaged in a variety of conversations related to their own goals. In addition to conversations around college, the JCITs have also thought about how their long-term goals relate to the choices they make in high school. By connecting long-term dreams with short-term goals, we help our 9th graders think about the importance of succeeding in high school starting the first day of freshman year.

Our 10th, 11th and 12th grade students continue to represent the heart of our College and Career program. Over the past couple of months, students have travelled to Salem State, U-Mass Dartmouth, Lesley University, St. John’s College and New York University. These college visits have served as an opportunity for our students to see the variety of different schools that exist within Massachusetts, New England and beyond. In addition, this past Monday was the last day of an 8-week SAT Prep class that juniors participated in through a partnership with Wellesley College. Our mentoring program continues to provide students with individualized support throughout this process in partnership with SSYP staff, including me, the Sr. Manager of College Access & Success. In addition to all of these programs, it is also my role to make sure that all our our seniors are graduating high school with a clear plan for their next step. To us, this plan must be a good financial, academic, and social and emotional fit. That is our definition of success, and what we believe will help all students graduate with the framework for life-long success.

Finally, St. Stephen’s is committed to expanding the way in which we support our alumni. One way in which we are doing this is through our new First Friday Alumni series, which aims to create a consistent space for alumni to come back and reconnect with staff as well as form community with one another and our current teens. In addition, St. Stephen’s is hoping to connect alumni with young professionals in the field they are hoping to pursue through a new networking program that is rolling out this spring.

Overall, St. Stephen’s has built our program so that we can make a commitment to all our young people and their families that we are here to work and support them through not only elementary, middle and high school, but their post-high school journeys as well. We believe not only in college access but also in college success, and remain dedicated to the idea that early exposure and experience will prepare students to make the best decisions for both themselves and their families.

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

An Author, Illustrator, and DJ Walk into Second Grade…

The entire room was chanting his name as we walked in. For the second grade at the Blackstone Innovation School, Jef Czekaj is a celebrity. Jef, an author, illustrator, and DJ, spent his day with the all five second grade classes at the Blackstone. His visit to the Blackstone, along with book donations to the school library, the second grade classrooms, and each second grade student, was made possible by Wondermore, an organization dedicated to bringing authors into schools. Wondermore partnered with the Blackstone Library, the school’s library managed by St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and staffed largely by volunteers.

The energy in the classroom was high during the entirely of Jef’s visit. The whole class was singing along to the hip hop Jef played as he set up. From there, the Blackstone Library coordinator, Tricia, introduced Jef. The class had lots of questions about being an author and illustrator. The good news, according to Jef, is that the job is fun and he can work almost anywhere, but Diesel Cafe in Davis Square is his favorite. The class was excited to learn that authors can even work in their pajamas!  The bad news is that being an author is hard work! Jef explained that he has to put a lot of work into developing his ideas and only a number of his ideas get picked up. With input from the class, Jef had a brainstorming session to develop a cartoon. They first wrote down nouns, then verbs, and finally adjectives before turning the idea into a drawing! In the picture below, check out the dog- cat- giraffe- lion- shark hybrid as he sings, jumps, and dances!  Jef told the class he carries a notebook to draw and explore his ideas. He also shared drawings he had done as a child to match idioms his teachers wrote for him.

In each of the three classroom visits, Jef engaged the class with one of his many books, including OINK-A-DOODLE-MOO, a barnyard telephone game, YES, YES, YAUL!, a story featuring a rapping turtle and rabbit named Hip and Hop, and Cat Secrets, a goofy cartoon chronicling a conflict between cats and a mouse. To conclude his visits, Jef encouraged the students to create and explore the creative process and team up with friends to see what they can make when they combine their strengths.

To learn more about events at the Blackstone and the Blackstone Library, the partnership between St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and the Blackstone, or to get involved as a volunteer, contact Maureen, the School Partnership Organizer.  

"My Soul Has Grown Deep Like the Rivers"

The past month, April, was National Poetry Month and the SSYP-run Library at the Blackstone Innovation School celebrated. Activities included poetry-in-your-pocket and poetry read-alouds. With one fifth grade class, a visit to the library started with a book of poetry by Langston Hughes. The students were excited to share what they knew about Hughes because they had been studying about him in class the previous week! Just one great example among many of how the Blackstone Library volunteers, led by SSYP's Library Coordinator Tricia Harvey, are helping to expand the learning and love of books of students at the Blackstone!  There are now 21 Blackstone classrooms that visit the library on a weekly basis; volunteers recruited and trained by SSYP also support students in nine classes in their own rooms. Come join us!

If you would like to learn more about being on one of these teams or to sign up right now to be a volunteer during the school day, contact tricia@ssypboston.org (for the library) or maureen@ssypboston.org (for classroom work). 

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

Still Organizing for Teen Employment

Every February, the SSYP Teen Organizers are part of the annual Youth Jobs Rally to demand full state funding for youth jobs. This winter, we joined hundreds of youth and supporters from across the state in marching through the streets to bring attention to this critical issue and to ask our elected leaders to invest in young people by providing them economic opportunities. In Boston, these jobs are administered by the Department of Youth Engagement and Employment.

Following the animated Youth Jobs Rally and fired up by the dedication of other youth workers, we considered what to do next. Boston is about to be in the hiring season of summer jobs for teens. So, our organizing team of teens and adults decided to meet with DYEE to make sure things were on track for the 3,200 young people who would be in their employment this summer. We went in with high hopes.

We arrived at the Tobin Community Center for our appointed time.  We found the Chief of Health and Human Resources Felix Arroyo, BCYF Commissoner William Morales and DYEE Executive Director Rashad Cope staff were in another meeting. As the clock hand ticked on, we considered leaving. After about thirty minutes, we were led to a larger conference room and began the conversation.  Our team broached the disturbing fact that in Summer 2016 there was funding for 3,200 jobs but only 2,600 spots were filled. This was largely due to challenges with new technology for hiring and the infrastructure for communicating with teens.  The good news is that DYEE has expanded the staffing for their office so that there are more people to support teens through the hiring process. The remaining challenge is that only half of these new positions are filled and DYEE may not be fully staffed until the end of May. 

In addition, we asked where the funds for the unfilled 600 teen jobs in 2016 had gone as it was almost million dollars. We found that some of it had been invested in 140 school year jobs; but the math we did in advance showed that there might still be remaining funding available. If correct, this would mean even more teens could have jobs for summer 2017. DYEE and HHS pledged to investigate.

We also shared concerns about the timing of check processing and the accuracy of checks. Again, we received commitments from city officials to improve and correct these past problems. 

Most importantly, we talked about how we could work together to have the most successful summer, one that would benefit all teens and community-based organizations. We left feeling an increased sense of partnership and better communication. We invited Chief Arroyo, Commissioner Morales, and Executive Director Cope to visit B-SAFE and join the Organizing Team for a day this summer. And, we took this nice photo. By establishing these direct relationships, we feel that teens can now hold our public officials accountable and be partners in the effort to make our city agencies more effective. And that is just what we plan to do. Stay tuned!

By Kesanet Tesfazion and Teen Organizing Team

Spring Festivities

On Thursday, April 14, Christ Church of Cambridge, a fabulous partner with SSYP, executed a carefully thought-out and well-planned Easter Party for all of the youth at St. Stephen's. The afternoon started off with a pizza party and presentation of Imagination Stations!  The kids all ate, while their peers got up in groups to present some of the cool activities they had been doing over a four-week period. The Imagination Stations were physics of paper, dance, oragami, and the science of cookies.

They then broke off into their respective groups and were able to enjoy a variety of festive activities. Christ Church of Cambridge brought a number of volunteers who ran activities such as spring baskets, paper plate sheep, and coffee filter butterflies. The youth also participating in foot-washing and learned the meaning behind it. It turned out to be a great afternoon!

By Sandy Quispe, St. Stephen's Site Manager

B-READY at St. Augustine & St. Martin's LOVES College Volunteers!

Young people at B-READY St. Augustine & St. Martin celebrated all the volunteers from Lasell College and Northeastern University who have been serving as literacy volunteers during the afterschool program this year. Volunteers helped to make this year full of love--for books, for literacy, and for each other. THANKS to everyone who served at B-READY for the past 10 months!

I Am Because We Are

Throughout this school year, the JCITs have created a community of love, support and collaboration. They have learned that although it only takes one person to spark positive change, it takes a village to act on it and make those changes. Every day at our program, the JCITs are demonstrating the idea of Ubuntu: I am because we are. We feed off of each other’s ideas, energies and emotions. This creates chaos, love, frustration, and inspiration between us, some days better than others. But it is all in the name of Ubuntu: coming together as individuals to form a community and fight for positive change.

When we were presented with the idea to create an art project centered around the idea of Ubuntu, we owned it. With the help of Harvard Divinity School Graduate student Peter and Wheelock College senior Kira, the JCITs were asked to challenge their thoughts and think about how they perceive the idea of Ubuntu in their lives, community and world. Inspired by the Black Eyed Peas 2016 version of #WHEREISTHELOVE, the JCITs expressed their ideas through art, collage, song and poetry. They were given the chance to showcase their artwork in Towne Gallery at Wheelock College among many other youth groups in the Greater Boston Area.

JCIT Mara (BCLA, 9th), braved the opportunity to read aloud a poem she had written in front of all of those who attended the showcase. She powerfully presented these words that spoke of the harsh reality of our society and how it portrays and treats people of color.

“Don’t you see the root of this situation,
We cannot be divided but united.
You’ve been misguided and provided
With bias information.
It’s time to reconsider how we raise this generation.

We see children being taught the wrong
And about the color of our faces
But we need to embrace it.”


If you would like to witness the process of our art work, check out this video featuring all those involved in the artwork, as well as the artwork itself!

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

Senior Internship with SSYP

At Fenway High School, seniors have the opportunity to complete a six-week internship at any location they choose. Typically, these internships are supposed to help students better understand real-world jobs and the careers that seniors are interested in. This year, three Fenway seniors, including myself, have chosen to complete their six-week internships at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. I am Dayaeliz, and  Elvis and Yaraluz are here with me on this journey. After graduating high school, we all plan to attend college. I will be attending Broward College in Florida to study aviation. Elvis will be attending Wentworth University to study computer science. Yaraluz will be attending Bridgewater State University to study psychology.  

Although we are all studying something different in college, we still wanted to get the exposure of working in an environment that is children based and community oriented. We all chose St. Stephen’s Youth Programs because we wanted to gain more knowledge and experience with children. Personally, I hope to gain more of an understanding of children and their emotions. I also hope to gain a lot of good memories and relationships here at St. Stephen’s. Elvis hopes to gain more experience with youth, and familiarize himself in a professional environment. Yaraluz would like to improve her communication skills with children and adults. She would also like to improve on her leadership skills. All three of us share the hope that this internship at St. Stephen's teaches us the skills we need for the near future.

By Dayaeliz Torres

St. Patrick's Day Dancers

Everyone can use a little luck-- even in April! Back in March, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day here at St. Augustine and St. Martin’s with wonderful Irish Dancers from The Brady Academy. Five very talented girls from the troop came and performed for us, taught our kids a jig, and we all shared some treats at the end. Our kids learned about the different types of dances there are, the different types of shoes dancers wear, and learned some fun tips about how Irish dancers are supposed to dance, such as not moving their arms while dancing! It was an amazing day and we welcome back The Brady Academy dancers anytime!

B-PROUD to Blog!

As a 14 year old, reading and writing are tasks that may feel more like chores than a choice. So when introducing the idea of a blog to my ninth graders, I was unsure of what their reaction would be. I posed it as a blog that would include their opinions, their ideas and their passions. It would be a blog that would give them an opportunity to voice all the things they have wanted to say but haven’t been given the chance to do so. It would be the space for them to talk about the positive change they want to bring to this world, as fourteen and fifteen year olds specifically.

There is a stigma in our society that young people, especially teenagers, are incapable of creating, sparking and fighting for positive change. I, as a youth worker and one who works most closely with ninth graders, will not allow this mindset. I sit in the JCIT room everyday, amazed and overjoyed by the things being said, wondering if I ever spoke as eloquently and passionately about social justice topics when I was the age of my JCITs. I wanted the things they were saying to not just pass in and out of the room for one two-hour block, but rather I wanted these thoughts to be documented in a way where everyone in our community could read and see them forever. It was than that the B-PROUD Blog was brought to life!

When you enter our blog site, you will be greeted with the title of our blog, B-PROUD. “9th Graders Who Want to Create Positive Change.” Why B-PROUD? Well, I want there to be a sense of pride when the JCITs are writing and posting their blogs. I want them to understand the importance of being able to speak your voice. It really does only take one person to spark positive change and I know my JCITs will be those people who do so. So why not give them that chance now?

Check out our first blog, My Platform, written by JCIT Alicia Troncoso! Or check out our entire blog site at https://ssypjcitblog.wordpress.com. We look forward to comments and questions and appreciate any shares on social media. It starts with us!

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

Strong Girls will break glass ceilings. Strong Women will show them the ladder.

Throughout the year, our 5th grade girls have been participating in a special program called "Strong Women, Strong Girls." This program provides our girls with the opportunity to meet with college mentors from UMass Boston once a week to spend the afternoons talking about powerful women and their experiences. 

This past fall, the 5th grade girls took a trip with their mentors to UMass Boston’s campus where they participated in a full day of fun and empowering activities. They created crowns and capes, learned about self-defense and wellness, and toured the College of Engineering. UMass student and mentor Niara says what she enjoyed most about the program was the "the open-space and dialogue” that she and the other mentors created for the girls. Strong Women, Strong Girls is a place where our girls and their college mentors can feel comfortable enough to express their inner selves while also being able to get anything off their minds on a weekly basis. Niara explains, "It was a motivating experience for me personally because when I was their age I didn’t have an outlet where I could openly be myself and as a result my self-esteem suffered.” 

Shannice, a mentor new to the program this semester, explains that what she is excited for "the opportunity to inspire young girls, boost their level of confidence and build a life-long relationship with each of them.” She said that just after meeting with the St. Stephen’s 5th grade girls, she was blown away by how smart they were and impressed by their responses. Shannice believes "kids are the future of this world” and now every Tuesday she will have the chance to see first hand why this is true. 

Thank you Strong Women, Strong Girls for continuously working to empower young women! 

By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator

The Power of Mentoring at SSYP

Here at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, we strive to surround each young person with a comprehensive circle of care that supports him or her on the road to successful adulthood. The opportunity for our young people to create healthy relationships with adults is a central part of this. The variety of types and modes of  mentoring in our programs is part of how we build these relationships. 

On Monday February 27, the growth of mentoring at St. Stephens was fully evident, as there were three simultaneous programs and meetings happening. In one room, Jeremy met with the Wellesley College volunteers to plan the spring SAT Prep series of workshops. This prep course provides SSYP's high school juniors with comprehensive study and practice by partnering students with college volunteers to work one-on-one, ensuring they are prepared for the spring test. This program has developed and grown over the past three years; it is now focused on individualized support and attention based on the needs of each student. 

In another room, there was a training for all mentors in our College and Career program. This is a program that began with one-on-one mentors for all of SSYP'sh high school juniors and seniors. While that continues, this year St. Stephens has made a real commitment to expanding this mentoring program in two directions; we now match mentors with high school sophomores and we are coaching mentors to stay with the students as they transition from high school to college. The training on February 27th introduced our evolving model, with cohorts of mentors who are all supporting students of the same age and grade. This allows mentors to support one another. At the training, mentors had small group discussions led by SSYP staff and experienced mentors, sharing needed resources so they can best support their students. 

In a third room, there was a new initiative  that SSYP is launching in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). For years, JCRC volunteers have been a vital part of our academic night success, serving on Mondays and Wednesdays to support tutoring for the YLC (Youth Leadership Corps). The partnership with JCRC continues to grow in exciting ways; this spring features young professionals from JCRC providing one-on-one mentoring for our middle school students. The pairs will build relationships, work on homework, and engage in other enrichment activities. 

Fostering healthy relationships continues to be a core part of the St. Stephen’s Youth Programs model, and Monday served as another example of just how many different ways it is happening. 

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

The Blackstone Innovation School, St. Stephen's Youth Programs, and Dr. Seuss--A Great Partnership!

On Friday, March 3, the Blackstone Innovation School and St. Stephen's Youth Programs celebrated reading and literacy with the Seventh Annual Read Across America Day. This is a nationwide event and is timed to fall near the birthday of many youngsters' favorite author, Dr. Seuss. Here in the South End, volunteers from non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, and corporate partners gathered in the Blackstone Library.  Readers picked out books and then fanned out to classrooms for an afternoon of reading.  Students in kindergarten through fifth grade happily joined visitors to share books and discuss how reading helps them in their everyday life.  

This year's event even had a twist! Blackstone students and staff alike dressed up as their favorite children's book character!  Many popular stories were represented: Harry Potter, Arthur and Buster (from Marc Brown’s Arthur series), and even Pigeon (from Mo Willems’s beloved series).  Pigeon tried but fortunately was thwarted from driving the bus. Phew!

Starting  in 2011, the Blackstone Innovation School and St. Stephen's Youth Programs have worked together to create a fully-functional library in what was previously a dusty storage space.  Thanks to the dedication of many volunteers as well as funding from Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, the school now has a top-notch library that is open and staffed (by volunteers) five days a week, boasts more than 12,000 volumes that are catalogued in an online database, has a subscription to EBSCO, hosts author visits several times a year, and celebrates Read Across America Day each year.  Every week, at least twenty classes full of smiling, excited students visit the library for read aloud time, the opportunity to borrow books, and the chance to travel the world thanks to the magic of reading. To learn more about the library and to explore volunteer opportunities, contact Maureen Burns at maureen@ssypboston.org or stop by the Blackstone School to ask a library volunteer for a tour.

By Maureen Burns, Lead Organizer of School and Community Partnerships

“Whose Budget?! OUR Budget!” Youth Jobs Rally 2017

The St. Stephen’s Youth Programs teen organizers and CITs joined hundreds of teens from across the state to demand that Massachusetts lawmakers pass a budget that invests in its young people of color instead of incarcerating them. The day began with a rally at Old South Church, featuring youth performances and education about the connections between youth jobs and systems that reinforce poverty and racism.

District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson spoke to an enthusiastic crowd, saying “If there is enough money in the budget for police overtime, there is plenty of money for teen jobs!” which was met with hearty applause.

We took to the streets on the balmy 70-degree day, and marched to City Hall and then the State House, chanting and holding signs demanding justice for young people. We wanted to make it clear that just because youth can’t vote does not mean they should have no say in a budget process and government that shapes and controls every aspect of their lives.

The teens met with Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing, whose district includes the South End. They asked him to co-sponsor an amendment to increase the budget to maintain the same number of jobs that were funded last year, if the House budget comes in under the requisite $14 million. He promised to support parity funding.

Any and all calls to state representatives to support full funding for youth employment will help create a budget that works for all people in our state. Check out wheredoivotema.com to find out who your elected officials are and how to contact them.

By Sarah O'Connor, Lead Organizer for Lenox Community

JCITs Take Tufts

Some would say that thinking about college at fourteen or fifteen years old is ridiculous and irrelevant. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But for the JCITs at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs it is a new and exciting adventure that seems far off but extremely applicable. What a great mindset to have, am I right? So...how do we at SSYP address this type of interest in college with our teens, whether freshman or seniors in high school? We take them on a college visit!

On Friday, February 3rd, our JCITs went to Tufts University in Medford, MA. We convened and met Alex in Davis Square, which is only a 10 minute walk away from the university. This school year the JCIT program has been lucky enough to welcome the wonderful Alex Jeremiah, who happens to be a senior at Tufts as well as the Tufts Tisch Scholar working with our ninth graders. Alex has been a tremendous asset to the JCIT team and the teens seem to enjoy his passion, excitement and motivation to engage in conversation about diversity, justice, and college life. With Alex as our tour guide for the day, we knew we were in good hands.

Our first stop was the dining hall, which we learned was open from 8am-9pm. As soon as we entered the building, the JCITs’ faces lit up. It took us all about ten minutes to actually decide what we wanted considering all the choices we were given. Once we got to the table, I noticed that some of the favorites were the cheeseburgers, pizza, and of course, ice cream (oh, to be young again). My favorite line from the dining hall was, “I would stay here all day.” From this point on we began exploring the upper and lower campuses. From checking out the Tisch Library, to getting to see a classroom, to hanging out in a computer lab and taking a picture with what we learned was a million dollar elephant statue, we saw it all and braved the cold! The JCITs favorite part was exploring the residence halls. Alex willingly took us into the residence hall he where he is an RA and walked us down the halls and showed us his room. The teens were in awe. They would see an open door, walk in, and say hello to the occupants. Fortunately, all of the Tufts students were very welcoming and engaging. It was at this point that I heard some of the JCITs say, “I want to be in college now” or “Wow! College students are so nice.” As their JCIT Program Coordinator, this put a smile on my face.

Our day began to come to a close and as we finished walking around campus I could hear the excitement in the JCITs’ voices. They were having fun, they were enjoying themselves and they were now exposed to a whole new world outside of high school. They were, essentially, looking at what their future could be like, whether they realized it or not. And that is the coolest part about all of this. Finally, we got on the Tufts shuttle back to Davis Square and headed back to St. Stephen’s. College...irrelevant? The JCITs don’t think so!

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

“Knowing that I have that opportunity with the JCIT program to visit colleges like Tufts not only gives me reassurance but also a guarantee that college is the place for me. GO JUMBOS!” - Alicia (JCIT, 10th grade)

“Knowing that I have that opportunity with the JCIT program to visit colleges like Tufts not only gives me reassurance but also a guarantee that college is the place for me. GO JUMBOS!” - Alicia (JCIT, 10th grade)

JCITs pose for a picture on the roof of Tisch Library where the city skyline is visible. (Left to right: Rachel, Destiny, Kathleen, Kiara, Taysha, Alejandra, Mara, Alex, Bella, Alicia).

JCITs pose for a picture on the roof of Tisch Library where the city skyline is visible. (Left to right: Rachel, Destiny, Kathleen, Kiara, Taysha, Alejandra, Mara, Alex, Bella, Alicia).

Professors for the day! JCITs check out a Tufts University classroom and learn that class sizes are small, with an average of 20-25 students per class depending on your major.

Professors for the day! JCITs check out a Tufts University classroom and learn that class sizes are small, with an average of 20-25 students per class depending on your major.

We found the elephant and were slightly disappointed when we learned it was not real. Anyway, Go Jumbos!

We found the elephant and were slightly disappointed when we learned it was not real. Anyway, Go Jumbos!

Winning with Heart

“Powerful.” “Happy.” “Proud.” “Excited.” “The struggle was worth it.” “In our unity is power. Victorious!”

These are some of the words and phrases parents shared as we made a sparkling cider toast at our No On Question 2 victory celebration a couple months ago.

I’ve been organizing parents at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs for a year and a half now, but it was one of our parent leaders, Janet, who first made me think seriously about whether our group could take on the daunting task of a statewide ballot question. It was September. We were sitting in my sweltering office, talking about schools, and she looked me right in the eye. “This is all good, Ariel, but when are we really going to talk about justice in education? When are we going to talk about Question 2?”

Question 2 was an initiative on the 2016 Massachusetts State ballot. It would raise the statewide limit on charter schools by up to 12 per year, without adding any additional funding sources. This would mean that money would be siphoned from the public schools that serve 96% of students in Massachusetts, not to mention a considerably higher percentage of students with special needs and English Language Learners. Still, I knew many students in our afterschool program who are doing incredibly well in charter schools, so I wasn’t quite ready to push hard for No on Question 2 as our campaign. Instead, I left it up to the parents to decide.

At our next meeting, we started by watching an ad for Yes On 2 that made the case for charter schools. Then we brought in an outside speaker to present the case for No On 2. At the end of the meeting, we revisited the Yes On 2 ad and asked, “What do you think?” Our parents were vehemently against it. “This is not about creating democracy; this is about someone wanting to get rich at the expense of our kids’ education!” “I can’t believe they’re just lying to us in those ads!” Even people who came in believing that charter schools were better voted unanimously to work to keep Question 2 from passing.

So, we did just that. We got to work.

Every week, we joined parents from around the state making phone calls to Spanish-speaking voters. Our parents went out into the neighborhood knocking on doors, and into their homes and communities convincing their families and neighbors. And they did an amazing job.

One of the Union organizers told me that parents of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs were the strongest, largest, and most effective group of Spanish-speaking parent leaders in the whole state!

In the end, we won No On 2, and we won with heart. Before I even got home on Election Night, parents were calling: “We won! Can you believe we did it? If we can do this, just think about what else we can do!”

In the months since the Election, when so many other things feel scary and uncertain, I keep coming back to this. We know what it means to stand up for our interests as a community, and we know what it feels like to win. And to anyone who doubts us: in these coming months and years, we’re not afraid to do it again.

By Ariel Branz, Lead Parent Organizer. To learn more about our Parent Organizing Program, contact us at ariel@ssypboston.org

A toast to our victory

A toast to our victory

Parent Leaders call voters on the HubDialer

Parent Leaders call voters on the HubDialer

It’s a full house for phone banking!

It’s a full house for phone banking!

Our youngest Organizer

Our youngest Organizer

Seven Years Strong! MLK Day 2017

Volunteers paint the stairs at the 7th Annual MLK Day of Action

Volunteers paint the stairs at the 7th Annual MLK Day of Action

On Monday January 16, Martin Luther King Day, volunteers gathered at the Blackstone Innovation School. So much has changed since the first MLK Day of Action in 2010!  Seven years ago, the elementary school in South End had no library.  However, on this morning in 2017, a team of volunteers was busy covering brightly illustrated books in protective plastic so that they could be added to the Blackstone Library’s growing book collection (now more than 12,000 well-catalogued volumes).  This volunteer team was one of twenty-five action teams working on projects to improve the learning environment of the Blackstone.  Nearly 300 volunteers, coming from 45 different organizations-- including urban and suburban churches, synagogues, public schools, charter schools, local neighborhood associations, AmeriCorps groups, private businesses and nonprofits--came together to paint classrooms and hallways, organize storage areas, make flashcards, and create teacher appreciation gifts.  Seven years ago when the first MLK Day of Action at the Blackstone was organized, the projects addressed fundamental needs of the school building.  Thanks to the continuous and ongoing commitment of numerous community partners, with the Blackstone Library team volunteers being only one of many, the MLK Day of Action has grown from a single day into a myriad of opportunities for volunteers to contribute to the health of the school throughout the year.

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley gave inspiring remarks

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley gave inspiring remarks

After gathering for breakfast and a morning orientation about the Blackstone and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the volunteers were challenged to act.  The first action push came from the Revs. Liz Steinhauser and Marisa Egerstrom, both on staff at St. Stephen’s.  In recognizing the number people present and diversity of volunteer groups represented, they asked the crowd to get to know someone new and learn why they were investing their time and energy at the Blackstone on that day.  Then volunteers went off in their teams to work; tackled projects and completed them with gusto and skill.  Reconvening for lunch, volunteers listened as City Councilor Ayanna Pressley reflected on the words of Dr. King, pushing folks to become more engaged in their communities in order to bring about change and justice. Then, teen organizers from the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign taught people how to organize their public schools into sanctuaries of safety that will welcome all students, including immigrants regardless of status.  City Councilor Tito Jackson closed out the day by recognizing the  volunteers’ hard work and sending them off with words of inspiration on the importance of community service and the need for more action in the coming months.

Friends of all ages participated in the Day of Action

Friends of all ages participated in the Day of Action

Thanks to ALL of the volunteers who participated and team of leaders who helped plan the day, including City Year and the staff of the Blackstone.  Special shouts of gratitude to all the organizations who offered financial support for the day, including

All Our Children

Blackstone Square/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association

B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign

City Councilor Tito Jackson spent time with teen organizers after they ran the Sanctuary Workshop

City Councilor Tito Jackson spent time with teen organizers after they ran the Sanctuary Workshop

Ellis Neighborhood Association

Emmanuel Gospel Center

Jewish Community Relations Council

Motus, a Building Impact Corporate Partner

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Trinity Church in Boston

To get involved with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs’ partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School, please contact Maureen at maureen@ssypboston.org.

To remain active in the Sanctuary Campaign, contact Sarah at sarah@ssypboston.org.

By Maureen Burns, Lead Organizer of School and Community Partnerships

Announcing the first ever YLC Student Council Reps!

Congratulations to Diamond, Anyshja, John Lucas, and Franlys! After an impressive campaign run, these four middle school student have been selected as our Youth Leadership Corps student council representatives. They will be meeting regularly to help staff plan activities and events for  the YLC such as Fun Fridays throughout the academic year. It is our hope that this representative structure will provide more youth voice and participation across programming. This is just one step that we have taken so that our young people can begin to envision themselves as young civic leaders. 

By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator

SSYP Hits the Slopes

On Monday, January 16 (Martin Luther King Day!), St. Stephen's Youth Programs partnered with Youth Enrichment Services to take 35 middle schoolers and teens along with 10 staff, alum and volunteer chaperones to Pat's Peak in New Hampshire for a skiing and snowboarding adventure. Once there, young people had formal lessons on how to ski or snowboard from trained YES instructors.  Young people then spent the morning and early afternoon engaged in experiential learning as they figured out many of the skills of skiing and snowboarding. Despite the many falls that come with early practice, students had a lot of fun! The shouts of young people encouraging and supporting each other rang out above all else. By the end of the day, all those involved adorned themselves with colorful glow sticks and did one final run down the bunny slope, glowing in the night sky. After taking off their equipment, the students danced at the lodge party, listened to a program that focused on the values of Martin Luther King Jr,, and reflected on ways to increase opportunities for young people of color.  Everyone--students and adults--came back exhausted and grateful for this awesome opportunity with YES and SSYP! We look forward to the next outdoor adventure!

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

Bringing Together Teens and Alum for Long-term Success

On January 5, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs hosted its annual winter alumni gathering. The event has two goals: to create a space for graduates of SSYP who have gone off to college or careers to reconnect with each other and to offer those graduates continuing support as they take these next steps in their lives.  The event has also become a time for our current teens, the Counselors-in-Training and Organizers working for SSYP, to meet and learn from our alums. 

Last year, the winter event included a panel of graduates who talked about their experiences following high school and alumni shared advice with teens about how to overcome a variety of obstacles. This year, the event had three different parts; all were designed to provide teens and alumni with resources of support toward long-term success. 

First, our currently employed teen staff met with Gabe Baldwin, a teacher of mindfulness techniques. This was the initial session in a series of workshops promoting mindfulness, emotional regulation, and active listening.  Through this series, teens will build the skills to take care of themselves as they navigate the challenges that present themselves in both high school and beyond. 

At the same time teens were practicing mindfulness, graduates were talking about the growing alumni program SSYP is rolling out this spring. In addition to ongoing support for FAFSA renewals, college transfer applications, and scholarship forms, SSYP is launching a new professional networking program. This network will help connect our alumni with  people who are working in the fields our graduates are interested in pursuing. Following this announcement, alumni talked with each other, sharing stories and resources. It was wonderful to hear young adults speaking about their successes in a wide range of experiences and offering strategies and tips for overcoming the challenges they have faced. They learned from one another and gave feedback to SSYP about additional ways we might offer support. 

Then, the teens and alum joined together, forming small groups to foster discussions of the hopes for and fears about life after twelfth grade.  It was moving to witness the openness of both groups: the teens were willing to learn and alumni were sharing their experiences with honesty and wisdom. The event reaffirmed how committed our teens and alums are to SSYP and each other. There was that deep feeling of community and family that is so often mentioned as a key quality of SSYP.  We look forward to seeing what develops next!

SSYP is recruiting current professionals from different fields to be part of that support network for alum. If you are willing to meet with students during the spring to talk about your job and answer questions, please contact Jeremy at jeremy@ssypboston.org

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