Blackstone School Parent Mentors Celebrate and Graduate!

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On Monday, June 11, our first full-year class of Parent Mentors graduated with stories, certificates, proud moments, and much celebration! The Parent Mentor Program is based on the model developed over decades in Chicago with Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  Back in September, parents of students at the Blackstone Innovation School applied for positions as parent mentors, paid jobs that would place ten parents in ten classrooms, mostly Kindergarten and First Grade rooms. Each parent was paired with one teacher and then worked to support the learning and the teaching of the community four mornings a week. Parent Mentors helped students read aloud, practice their letters or numbers, resolved conflicts between young people, and retied shoelaces. In short, the Parent Mentors helped the young people in these ten classrooms feel like and actually be great scholars.

The graduation ceremony included testimony from each Parent Mentor speaking of how they had experienced transformation of themselves and their learning, of the Blackstone School, and Boston Public Schools. Teachers hugged the Parent Mentors and spoke of their own transformation, having felt the power of their partnerships. Together with over 100 other parents mobilized through SSYP's Parent Organizing Project, more than $16.4 million will be added to public education budgets in School Year 2018-2019. And SSYP's mission statement has evolved to recognize the central role of parents: SSYP's mission is to promote equity in education, employment, and opportunity through long-term relationships with young people and their families and communities. 

More about this program, the impact on the school, and research that shows how it helps to improve the academic skills of students in a future e-news. In the meantime, HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Lead Parent Organizer Ariel Branz, Parent Mentor Coordinator Rafaela Polanco, and all ten Parent Mentors!!

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

Imagination Stations

At. St. Stephen's, we believe in exposing our youth to all sorts of new experiences and activities. We do this in a couple of different ways, such as Imagination Stations or Choice Time. During Choice Time the youth get to chose a different activity weekly. In contrast, Imagination Stations are designed to enhance a skill or teach youth a new skill throughout a 4 week period with a presentation/ exhibition at the end. This year we had two Imagination Station series in which the youth were able to learn some new and cool skills! 

Each series usually offers 4 different options for the youth to chose from. Our first series offered Photography, where the youth learned how to use disposable cameras to take pictures in different lighting and angles, Drumming, where the youth learned the basics about reading sheet music and playing percussion instruments, Sculpting, where the youth learned how to mold clay into different animals, and Comic Book Making, where the youth learned the different parts of a story and how to turn their stories into comic strips with illustrations. 

Our second session offered Basketball, where the youth learned different basketball drills and best techniques, Cultural Cooking, where the youth created dishes and pastries from different countries, Self Portraits, where the youth used a grid method to paint self portraits, and Origami, where the youth learned the art of folding paper into different animals and flowers. 

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

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Cinco de Mayo Celebrations!

On May 4th, we spent our Fun Friday celebrating Cinco de Mayo at St. Augustine and St. Martin's! The students participated in activities such as salsa making, piñata breaking, and lots of fun treats! We learned about why Cinco de Mayo is called Cinco de Mayo. Some of our kids went all out and said that they were going to make the “spiciest salsa EVER” while others made a more manageable salsa. All of our youth enjoyed the day and were able to go home with some memorable treats to share with their family!

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

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Youth Make Art, Bring Change to Ramsay Park

On Tuesday May 1, the ninth grader leaders of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, known as the JCITs (Junior Counselors in Training), unveiled a community art piece at Ramsay Park near their Lenox Street program location.  The team of JCITs was inspired by gallery walks and videos that depicted politically-charged installation artworks by artists such as Ai Wei-Wei and Jean Michel Basquiat. The students decided they wanted to create their own work that would make viewers stop and think.  Adult staff from St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, along with a Tufts Tisch Scholar and a Lesley University graduate art therapy intern worked alongside the students to make the art installation happen.

The young people debated and then determined that their artwork would address gun violence around Lenox Street. “You don’t hear anything about [gun violence] unless it happens above Mass Ave. I think if more people knew how much it happened, they would be more encouraged to make changes,” said JCIT Evelyn Pimentel, who attends Cathedral High School. Another artist, JCIT Bryanna Rodriguez, stated, “I don’t hear about it in the news. I only hear it from the people around here.  My friend’s brother was shot and the next day the window was fixed and you never even knew it happened.”

The student group used flagging tape as the main medium of their artwork, weaving it into an isolated chain link fence to create an image in Ramsay Park.  Flagging tape is a material typically used to mark off borders and boundaries. The image read, “Change Will Come,” a phrase the young artists adapted from a speech they heard on gun violence.  In the talk, President Barack Obama said, “If Americans of every background stand up and say, ‘Enough! We have suffered too much pain, and care too much about our children to allow this to continue!’ Then, change will come.” All of the student artists wrote their hopes, dreams, experiences, lyrics, and hashtags on pieces of the flagging tape and added each to the fence in order to contribute to the larger whole image of words.  

Ramsay Park, where the art is installed, is a Lower Roxbury-South End park where positive change is coming.  The progress is quite visible, thanks to the efforts of SSYP, other Lenox-area teen groups, and the City of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department.  In the summer of 2015, a coalition of organizers brought in positive programming to Ramsay Park, including a basketball league, tennis lessons, mural painting, and flower-planting. This led to a commitment from the City of Boston to improve the park. At the State of the City in January 2016, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a commitment of $2.4 million of city funds toward a full renovation of the park.

The JCITs of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs continue to create positive change, this time with art.  Community members--children and families--gathered in Ramsay Park to celebrate the art installation with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Two JCITs spoke movingly about their creative experience and the purpose of the artwork. Then, all the JCITs encouraged community members to participate in the process of creating art by adding their own thoughts on neighborhood violence to the installation.

Under sunny skies, people enjoyed the springtime weather; children played and a neighbors hugged.  Passers-by stopped to inquire about the bold and black words, “Change Will Come.” The JCITs wanted their art installation to create joy and inspire conversations. They achieved their goals and felt powerful and visible in the process.  

As with all installation art, the JCITs were aware that their artwork was temporary. Still, they were surprised that it took only two days for workers from the City of Boston to cut down the art. A JCIT staff member asked one worker what was happening. With regret, he said, “I knew [the artwork] was something good but had to do what I was told.” The conversation took place next to a pile of hypodermic needles that had yet to be removed.

The words of the art installation took on even more meaning and urgency in the presence of this seeming contradiction. How could beauty be removed while danger remained?  Nevertheless, the JCITs believe that even ephemeral art has the power to influence viewers and may still bring change to a neighborhood. The creative process certainly brought transformation for these young artists.   

by JCITs of St. Stephen's Youth Programs with Bella Vidana and Abby Thompson

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Kid President Holds Sandy Accountable

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Last trimester, we decided that we needed a student council to allow our youth to have more voice in several different aspects of program. We called our student council Kid President Council and opened the positions to our kids. Each group had to pick two students to represent them starting the second trimester. The kids who were interested had to come up with a campaign and persuade their peers to vote for them. They came up with slogans such as, "Good Food = Good Moods. Vote for Adrian!" At the end of two very long weeks we had eight members. 

Since starting our Kid President Council the eight youth involved have been quite excited and active when it comes to the tasks we set out to accomplish. 

In our initial meeting we established that they would come up with a field trip, a snack, and choice time options. After the first meeting the members left with the task of coming up with a field trip they and their peers would like to go on. 

Each pair brought two trips to the second meeting that they had chosen in their group, the other council members voted, and soon we will be taking a bus field trip to the aquarium! At the end of the second meeting the kids were tasked with coming up with one snack they would like to eat during program. 

When the day came to meet we did not have all members present so Sandy decided to postpone the meeting. The council members that were present made sure they kept Sandy accountable and gathered to meet two days later after Sandy had forgotten to reschedule the meeting. They spent an entire afternoon looking up prices and quantities, running back and forth from the kitchen to the office, asking all the right questions about dietary restrictions and attendance to make sure they did not order things we already had or could not serve. That Friday three council members took it upon themselves to order snack for the program for an entire week and stayed within budget!

By Sandy Quispe, Site Manager at St. Stephen's

A Celebration of Reading! The Blackstone Innovation School, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, and City Year

On Friday, March 9, St. Stephen's Youth Programs and City Year hosted a literacy celebration- the Blackstone Innovation School’s Eighth Annual Read Across America Day! This is a nation-wide event and is timed to fall near the birthday of many youngsters' favorite author, Dr. Seuss. Here in the South End, forty volunteers from non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, and corporate partners gathered in the Blackstone Library.  Reunion Christian Church, a congregation that meets in the Blackstone’s auditorium, and Bain Capital, the Blackstone’s City Year sponsor, were among the most well represented groups! Each adult reader picked out a book and then joined a classroom for an afternoon of reading. Students eagerly greeted volunteers, asked them questions about their jobs, listened to stories, and shared books.

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. Blackstone’s library boasts more than 12,000 volumes that are catalogued in an online database, has a subscription to EBSCO, hosts annual author visits, and celebrates this Read Across America Day each year!  Every week, twenty-four classes full of smiling, excited students visit the library for read aloud time, the opportunity to borrow books, the chance to travel the world thanks to the magic of reading, and to build their literacy skills.

The Blackstone Library manages to do all this thanks to the resources of non-profit organizations and churches and the time of volunteers. The Blackstone Library is staffed solely by volunteers and yet it is one of the few public elementary schools in Boston that is open Monday through Friday. Currently, Boston Public Schools has only nine certified elementary schools librarians on staff, serving about 75 schools with elementary age students.  This makes school partners, like St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and City Year, all the more important. To support the Blackstone Library’s growing collection, check out their book wish list at portersquarebooks.com/wishlist/280. 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, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships

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We, the JCITs: Visual Tour

You walk into a room that is bright and colorful, the work and creations of the JCIT’s are on the walls, pictures and quotes of people who represent their identities are visible, and it has become more of a home than a “room for program.” Whether it’s the B-Excellent Pact we have created as a community or the carpet and tapestries on the wall, you instantly feel welcomed and comfortable. Every part of our space is intentional. You will find a bright poster on the wall with the mission statement our ninth graders came up with. Before we created this mission statement, each JCIT and adult in the room were asked to choose their favorite word. From there, we put them into our mission statement and created this:

We, the JCITs, dedicate our loyalty and respect to the people around us. Although we are funny and energized, we persevere through problems like gun violence. We strive to stay calm and positive during challenging times in our community! We are the JCITs.

You look at another wall and see a bookshelf with affirmation jars. Within our space we encourage each other to recognize and appreciate one another. Every person in our space brings something special to our small community and it is important that we remind people that they are important!

In our hallway, Abby, our Lesley Grad Art Therapy Intern has made each one of us a Bitmoji. They are representations of us in cartoon form and she gave us the freedom to choose our outfits and hairstyles that show who we are.

Also in our hallway, is our Art for Social Change Wall. The JCIT leadership development curriculum is heavily focused on how to use art for social change in the forms of photography, videography, poetry, music, drawing, etc. We encourage our teens to find the purpose behind the art on the wall, what it means to them and how they may connect with it.

You finish the room off with some string lights, blow up chairs, basketball hoops, posters of Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley and you feel at home. The only thing that makes this space even better is when every JCIT and adult staff are present and now, not only do you have a home...you have a family to fill that home. Come check out our space on the 3rd floor of The Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin on Lenox Street! Take it a step further by joining our JCIT Program! We are always welcoming new faces!

By Bella Vidaña, Mass Promise Fellow and JCIT Coordinator

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From Springfield to Boston to Washington: Youth Lead Movement to End Gun Violence

On Thursday March 14th, youth from SSYP joined young leaders from around Massachusetts who stood in front of the Smith and Wesson headquarters in Springfield, where the assault weapons used in the Parkland, Aurora and San Bernardino shootings were produced. Teens traveled by bus from Boston, car pools from Holyoke, and by foot from Springfield, walking the quarter of a mile from Springfield Central High School. They led over 200 youth educators, faith leaders, and allies in asking Smith and Wesson’s CEO, P. James Debney, to meet with students and become an industry leader in addressing gun violence in this country. Boston student leader Ekran Sharif said, “This gun [Smith and Wesson M&P-15] was never intended to be used by civilians.  We are here at Smith and Wesson to demand that executives from Smith and Wesson engage directly with us, specifically with youth leaders, about how their company will be part of the solutions to end gun violence.”

These students come from the urban neighborhoods in our state where gun violence occurs not only as a headline grabbing phenomenon, but as a fact of their daily reality. "But any effort toward solutions — and what are we all doing, post-Parkland, if not seeking solutions? — must address urban violence, too," said Ekran Sharif, 17, a student at Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers in Boston. “We don’t see this in the current debate,” she said. “The death of a child in Springfield or Boston matters just as much as the death of any child from Parkland. The trauma of losing a loved one is just as great no matter if it’s Sandy Hook or Chicago.”

Their action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield is part of a national moment and movement against the gun violence that is nothing new for so many of them. Many of these young leaders were heart-broken and outraged when tragedy struck in Dorchester and reverberated through the communities where Jorge Fuentes had been a part of in Boston and beyond. Jorge was shot and killed outside his home while walking his dog in September of 2012. His senseless murder galvanized those who knew him to take action to prevent future gun violence; together with then Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts they formed The B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign, the diocese's ongoing effort to address the underlying roots of violence.

While not new for the B-PEACE for Jorge leaders, the issue of gun violence has never captured the public’s attention in quite this way before. Last Saturday, these same B-PEACE young people and adult allies were marching alongside hundreds of thousands of others in the streets in Boston and Washington, DC. At the Boston March for Our Lives, members of The B-PEACE for Jorge campaign showed up wearing the purple shirts and white buttons emblazoned with Jorge’s face that they have been wearing in his honor for years. In Washington, D.C., Emma Gonzalez’s powerfully moving speech was particularly resonant for Boston teens who had traveled there for the action. As Gonzalez spoke about the urgency of taking action to end gun violence in our streets and in our schools, they could see she was wearing on her jacket the same B-PEACE for Jorge button they wear every day.

To follow the lead of young people in our neighborhood and across the country in this movement to end gun violence, join B-PEACE for Jorge teens in local actions and campaigns. Email sarah@ssypboston.org to get involved.

By Sarah O'Connor, Lead Teen Organize

 Emma Gonzalez, survivor of mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, showing her support for the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign during the national March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. Photo via social media sharing

Emma Gonzalez, survivor of mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, showing her support for the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign during the national March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. Photo via social media sharing

 B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign leader Fred-Jerome Johnson and other B-PEACE teens at Action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield / photo by Jonathon Leiner, JOIN for Justice

B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign leader Fred-Jerome Johnson and other B-PEACE teens at Action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield / photo by Jonathon Leiner, JOIN for Justice

 -PEACE for Jorge Teens at March for Our Lives in Washington, DC / photo by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer

-PEACE for Jorge Teens at March for Our Lives in Washington, DC / photo by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer

 B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign Leaders at Action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield / photo by Jonathon Leiner, JOIN for Justice

B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign Leaders at Action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield / photo by Jonathon Leiner, JOIN for Justice

 B-PEACE for Jorge Teens at March for Our Lives in Washington, DC / photo by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer

B-PEACE for Jorge Teens at March for Our Lives in Washington, DC / photo by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer

    B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign Leader Valentina Pedroza testifying at Action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield / photo by Jonathon Leiner, JOIN for Justice   

 

B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign Leader Valentina Pedroza testifying at Action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield / photo by Jonathon Leiner, JOIN for Justice
 

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

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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 ariel@ssypboston.org.

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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 jeremy@ssypboston.org.

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 maureen@ssypboston.org

By Maureen Burns, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships

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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 Jeremy@ssypboston.org.

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 Jeremy@ssypboston.org.

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 ariel@ssypboston.org to get involved!

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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 sarah@ssypboston.org.

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

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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 tricia@ssypboston.org.  You can also support the library by donating a book from our Wish List, found online at Porter Square Books:

https://www.portersquarebooks.com/wishlist/280

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

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