Church - School Partnership Builds a Library that Inspires a Love of Reading

St. Stephen’s Youth Programs (SSYP) and the Blackstone Elementary School kicked off their ninth year of a formal partnership and readers of all ages celebrated their love of books. One of the signature projects of SSYP is the school library, which was without one for almost a decade before the partnership. The Blackstone Library is open to students and teachers five days a week. With close to 12,000 well-organized volumes on the shelves, an online database of these books, regular author visits, a subscription to the search engine EBSCO, and a cheery, well-lit space, the Blackstone is one of the premier elementary school libraries in Boston Public Schools. This is all thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers and resources raised outside of the school’s regular budget.

Library volunteers, who are neighborhood residents and members of suburban Episcopal churches,  welcome two-thirds of the school’s classrooms (23 of 35) for weekly visits to the library for read-alouds and book-borrowing. Adults work hard to get to know each young person in grades K0 to 5, helping students find the “just-right” book to read independently.

In October, young readers at the school met Newbery Honor-winning author Adam Gidwitz.  This and other author visits to the Blackstone School have been made possible because of SSYP’s partnership with Wondermore, Inc., a Boston-based non-profit agency that seeks to “cultivate children’s curiosity, creativity, and academic achievement by igniting a love of good books.” During his time at the school, Gidwitz presented his new series, The Unicorn Rescue Society, and shared insights into the writing process with an enthusiastic audience of third graders.  Thanks to the generosity of Wondermore and Gidwitz, each student took home a copy of the first book in the series.  Wondermore also provided copies of the next two books in the series to all the third-grade classrooms and to the Blackstone Library, where they are proving to be popular checkout choices!

In November Blackstone Library volunteers led activities at the Blackstone’s Family Literacy Night, an annual event that encourages a spirit of literacy at school and at home.  More than forty students visited library, bringing their friends and family members, to make bookmarks, pick up some reading-related swag, and read stories to the library’s mascot, Clifford the Big Red Dog.

The library program relies on volunteers who keep their focus on supporting classroom teachers and enriching the reading experience for students.  If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities in the library, please email the Blackstone-SSYP’s Library Coordinator, Tricia Harvey (tricia@ssypboston.org) to arrange a visit or join the next orientation session.

Support for the Blackstone Library can also come through donations. During this festive season, please consider donating a book from the Blackstone-SSYP Wish List, found online at Porter Square Books: 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. Choose "In-store Pick-up" as the delivery option and Blackstone Volunteers will take it from there.

By Tricia Harvey, Library Coordinator

 Literacy Night activities for students and families

Literacy Night activities for students and families

 Library volunteer Jen Cusack of Needham gets ready to welcome young readers on Literacy Night

Library volunteer Jen Cusack of Needham gets ready to welcome young readers on Literacy Night

 Author Adam Gidwitz Visits the Blackstone

Author Adam Gidwitz Visits the Blackstone

 Blackstone Library display of Gidwitz books

Blackstone Library display of Gidwitz books

Parent Snack!

If you are familiar with our program, you may know that the well-being of all of our youth is always our main priority. Every day, apart from helping 130 kids with homework and other enrichment activities, we also provide our youth with a meal. The meals we provide our kids are warm when appropriate and hearty which allows for our youth to make it through the afternoon with full bellies. For some years now we have tried our best to include our families in this part of our afternoon by asking that they help us provide snack.

This year we put a little more effort into reaching out to our families for help and we have had such a great turn out so far! Every Thursday we have been so lucky as to have 2 to 3 families help us provide snacks for our kids! It has turned into a day the kids look forward to as they eat the food that their families prepare and we thank the kids whose parents cooked for us. 

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

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Running with Sole Train

The YLC middle school program had its first race on October 20th, “THE JP FUN RUN,” and the youth did a great job completing the 5K. The youth enjoyed all the support during the race: they got to see some of their middle school teachers who are involved in Sole Train, Megan, who was their Site Coordinator for St. Stephen’s last year, and even some outside friends. One youth name Fanleys and his running old sole Kyshawn completed the race in 33 mins. Another youth Dana and her old sole Maggie completed in 43 mins. The race was provided by a community-building and mentoring program that uses running as a vehicle for setting and achieving seemingly impossible goals. As a supportive community of caring adults and peers, Sole Train champions young people as they realize their capacity for greatness. Come cheer us on at our next big race in May of 2019 “ The Run to Remember”. Or every Tuesday and Thursday as we run in the South End for practice.

By Latasha Scott, YLC Program Coordinator and Mass Promise Fellow



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Learning Through Play

Anyone who knows me well knows that math and I have never gotten along. I was able to keep up enough to pass but I never felt like I got it. Fractions were particularly difficult for me so I can empathize with our students who struggle to grasp certain concepts or subjects in school. It is easy to fall behind and harder and harder to catch up. While my parents and teachers did the groundwork to help me understand the general concept of fractions, it didn’t fully click until I looked at it in a different context...music.

I could read and understand music--that made sense to me. It was when I stopped thinking about the fractions as math I realized that I did understand them and had, in fact, been using fractions this whole time when subdividing musical measures and melodies. The skills were there but something about the formal classroom setting caused a disconnect. The only way for me to reconnect with these skills was to practice them in an area I felt skilled at and that I found enjoyable.

This is the basis of my theory on learning through play. Standard classroom learning can be an intimidating and sometimes cold environment. The last thing I want when facilitating a lesson is to have youth stressed or disengaged. I’ve noticed that our youth tend to loosen up when you take out the classroom feel and incorporate more abstract activities, competitions, and games.

This theory also is the reason that we introduced Skillz Lab this year. Skillz Lab offers a variety of activities for youth to engage in but the catch is that each activity is stimulating some area of their brain. For example, when you challenge a child to build the tallest lego tower, their mind is learning about engineering and architecture. In a Play-Doh version of a “Cake Boss” bake-off, a child’s sculpture is really just practicing concepts in fine art, color theory, and geometry. A simple activity surrounding planting seeds has youth inadvertently learning about living organisms and the science of botany. “Fill in the Caption” comic books are really just storytelling, dialogue, and writing in disguise.

Skillz Lab in particular is embodying our B-READY 2018-19 theme “Change Can’t Wait” by trying something radical with the hopes of a positive outcome. Within an afterschool setting, we are fighting an uphill battle by offering classroom structure after a child has already had a 6+ hour school day. In my opinion, it does us no good to pretend to be what we are not--in this case, teachers. This is especially true when you consider that learning is constant and limitless and that humans learn a variety of ways. The formal classroom setting has already been provided by each of their schools. What we can provide is the supplemental practice and real-life application of those learnings. What we can provide is play.

By Vicky Ajene, Manager of Academic and Enrichment Programs.

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Tacos & Trivia: Kick-Off to Mentoring

From the Open House to Tacos & Trivia and the first Mentor Training, adult and teen participants alike have shown passion and interest in cultivating their mentoring relationships. 

 The winning team at Tacos and Trivia

The winning team at Tacos and Trivia

The official mentor kick off was on October 4th at the Volunteer Open House. The room was buzzing with conversation and excitement about the upcoming year. With thirty volunteers roaming around the building, a mix of new and returning, I felt my own passion and excitement growing with each person I talked to. On that Thursday evening, I left work feeling more ready than ever to cultivate mentor matches and plan events.

The first event I planned for mentor and mentee matches was Tacos & Trivia. Here, the interest in mentoring for youth and mentors was obvious over five competitive rounds of trivia. At the end of the fifth round we had a three way tie. After some careful deliberation, the judges decided that whoever could list the most Disney movies in one minute would take home the trophy. After an intense sixty seconds, the underdog of the game won the Fall 2018 Taco's & Trivia! Join us on November 16th for our next Mentor/Mentee Night! 

On October 16th we had our Mentor Training kickoff event! We were happy to welcome Janeen Smith of Mass Mentoring Partnership to facilitate this training. All our mentors found something new to learn and reported that this was a helpful training. Our next training on November 5th will have a focus on mentor check-ins and how to build your mentor relationship. 

I can't wait to see what this incredible year of mentoring relationships will bring for our teens and their mentors. 

By Emily Demazza, Americorps Ambassador of Mentoring

Welcoming a New Site Manager!

Hi, my name is Cassandra Bernabel and I am the new site manager for the St. Augustine and St. Martin location. This is a new role for me, but I have actually been a part of the program for approximately 10 years. I started working for St. Stephen’s as a counselor in training when I was 15 years old. I grew from that position, taking on more responsibility as a site assistant and, later on, as a lead counselor. After a two-year break, gaining different skills and knowledge concerning youth with autism and animal welfare, I have returned to an environment that has always brought me joy. To be exact, I have returned to St. Stephen’s to continue to pursue my passion with children and to gain more experience for a possible future career in teaching.

By Cassandra Bernabel, Site Manager at St. Augustine and St. Martin’s



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B-COOL and B-KIND in Concord

By Martha Stone, B-Cool Leader at Trinity- Concord

Ok, sure. It’s all well and good to open your home... invite a few people to spend time together... share a meal... a little conversation. The vision is pure joy at the outset. When a whole bunch of other stuff fills your calendar between the day the invitations go out and the day of the party, that’s when it gets real and you say to yourself, “I must have been out of my mind! Who ever thought hosting a party at our house was a good idea?”

The narrative at Trinity Concord with St. Stephen’s Boston couldn’t have been further from that kind of panic when we launched B- Cool in early August. When we heard that St. Stephen’s kids were coming to play at our house, parishioners from every generation stepped up for the sheer joy of it. Collaborations in baking, photography, floral design, collecting, writing, organizing, recruiting, gardening, teaching, smiling and laughing made the day.

From our youngest camper (age 5) to our oldest volunteer (91) we worked together, got hands dirty together, shared stories together and got sticky, soaked and sudsy together. Trinity’s teenaged “sidekicks” supported individual teams to guide and get to know their campers as they moved from activity to activity.

In 4 hours, some 60 campers, 15 staff and CITs and 25 volunteers shared hundreds of interactions – some planned, some serendipitous. These connections deepened the gratitude for our long-standing ministry with St Stephen’s.

We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, heard it with our own ears and felt it in our own hearts.

Click here to see our one-day adventure for yourself.


Welcome to our new Fellows!

This week St. Stephen's Youth Programs welcomed  three new staff members for 2018-2019! Thanks to our partnerships with the Mass Promise Fellowship and Mass Mentoring Partnership, we are thrilled to welcome Tasha, Jennie, and Emily. Read on to hear from them about why they're here!

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My name is Latasha Scott and I am a first year Massachusetts Promise Fellow. I wanted to commit to a year of service to develop real-world skills through a hands-on service. I want to create equity for the up coming youth by helping them break down barriers and build up the confidence by knowing they can achieve anything. Through my year of service I hope to make a impact on the participants with the wisdom I obtained and the compassion I provide. 

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My name is Jennie Bruno and I'm a first-year AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow working as the JCIT Coordinator and one of the teen staff supervisors. I wanted to do a year of service because I wanted to purposefully and proactively grow as a leader and learn more about youth work and community work. I want to make a difference for young people, giving them the support and resources they deserve instead of the inadequate environments and lack of opportunity society often leaves them with. My hope is that the world will become a better place, but I know that in order for that to happen we need to empower and encourage our next generation of leaders. 

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My name is Emily DeMazza and I’m the Highland Street AmeriCorps Ambassador of Mentoring through the Mass Mentoring Partnership. I’ll be working with volunteers overall as well as the mentoring program to put on orientations, training and activities. I wanted to do a year of service to help connect youth with adults and foster relationships that will make a meaningful impact for both the mentors and the mentees. I can’t wait to meet all of you and work with our youth!

 From left to right: Jennie, Tasha, and Emily

From left to right: Jennie, Tasha, and Emily

Nostalgia

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As 100+ scholars poured into Epiphany, ready for B-SAFE, I remember being fearful that I could not contain all the energy, that the future lesson plans would end in disaster.

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This fear came from my lack of experience in such an environment, and yet, the scholars proved me wrong. With some support and attention, their final projects for STEM, a Rube Goldberg machine, turned out creative and unique. During the closing ceremony, I asked them what their favorite STEM activity was, and many said that it was working on the Rube Goldberg machine. Another student said that STEM had been her favorite academic rotation. I also saw two students using Jenga blocks to create a mini Rube Goldberg machine during their break time. I could not be prouder of them.

These scholars have taught me how to be patient and adaptable; they have taught me more than I could have ever taught them.  

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By Emily Cheng

Emily is a rising sophomore at Princeton University, majoring in Molecular Biology. She helped design and implement the STEM curriculum for LEARN and for YLC at St. Luke’s Church. She aspires to be a physician scientist and is passionate about issues relating to minorities and education. She comes to St. Stephen's through Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS).

Making Learning Fun

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It is very easy to fall into the trap of teaching to the test or thinking that in order for children to grow and learn they must be contained in an extremely structured, student sits and teacher teaches, direct instruction kind of environment.  At the B-SAFE program at Epiphany LEARN that is not how learning happens.  The same way kids come in all types of personalities and different backgrounds so does the way they learn. Not all participants learn the same way. It is important that as educators and youth workers we understand that. The world we live in is different, the environment in which our children grow in is different, and so the way they learn is also different. Learning can happen in all types of forms. Learning can be measured in all types of ways. Test should not dictate the content taught or the manner in which learning happens. This leaves with the question of, how do children learn? The first step is taking the time to get to know them, their families, and their individual needs. As you take the time to build that foundational relationship, you build trust, you learn about their strengths and areas that need more growth. When we engage families we get a more accurate picture of the child and come to understand their needs even better.  This foundation is crucial in helping learning happen. You then tailor your lessons to those needs and little personalities. Learning can happen while out exploring in a field as much as it can happen sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture. Learning can be measured in a conversation as much as in the completion of a worksheet. If this is true, then we should be making learning more engaging to children by making it fun. The best learning happens when kids don’t necessarily realize that they are learning something new. This learning is permanent because it is t engrained with happy memories. This is the learning that comes from something being created and all of our senses activated. Effective learning is when we have kids at the edge of their seats with suspense eager to take in more information. It’s when they have smile on their face because they can see and understand the growth that they just underwent. This is how effective teaching should always be. This the direction that successful prevention of the summer slide should take. This is how we have fun learning at B-SAFE.

By Mauryn Perkins

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Learn and Grow with St. Stephen's Youth Programs

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I am Zinha Coronel, I am 19 years old, I have worked with St. Stephen's Youth Programs for three years, and I’ve worked with B-SAFE for two years. Started off as a CIT, then worked for B-SAFE the summer of 2017 as an Art Specialist, then became a Lead that following fall for LEARN. In the summer of 2018, I am a Site Assistant, I help out my site manager around the site making sure things are running smoothly, and I help manage how lunch will be served, and that also goes along  with breakfast. Being a Site Assistant allows me to build my skills in management, since that is what I am majoring in college. I am learning how to use the resources around me and how to manage teens. My favorite thing about being a B-SAFE is watching young people learn and grow in the program.

By Zinha Coronel

We All Need Self-Care

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When I transferred to Wheelock College in the fall of 2016, many professors and guest speakers would mention how important self-care is. I have done a lot of volunteering with different organizations, but it wasn’t until I started working in a therapeutic after-school program that I realized how important self-care is. Self-care is emotional, physical and mental. These are the areas where we need to take time to prepare ourselves to do the work we are destined to do. How do you practice self-care? The first thing I turn to when I am feeling stressed is listening to music at the loudest possible volume. Well… maybe not that loud but it is definitely loud! Something about singing my heart out – although I know I can’t sing – singing out my emotions is refreshing. Work is stressful. Life is stressful. We all need time to ourselves to unwind, refresh and practice self-care.  

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By Nichelle Gomez

Nichelle is a rising senior at Simmons College where she studies social work. Nichelle started with St Stephen's Youth Programs in 2017 when she was hired as a lead counselor. Through hard work Nichelle moved up to be a teen staff manger for the B-SAFE Summer Program. Nichelle has a great passion for working with youth and wants to give back to her community. After she graduates with her bachelor in social work, Nichelle plans to continue her education at Simmons to receive a masters degree. Ultimately, Nichelle would like to become a clinical social worker.

Always Choose Kind

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This is the first year ever that B-SAFE has had two themes, one for the YLC (middle school) program and one for the LEARN (elementary school) program. 

The theme for the LEARN program this summer is a shortened version of a quote from the book Wonder, "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." This theme has been incorporated into many aspects of our programming. The most evident use of the theme is during the "Choose Kind" academic rotations where each lead reviews the lesson plans and run the activities with their groups. The youth have now learned about empathy, random acts of kindness, and about how people are more than just their appearances, with many other lessons not listed! 

The beauty of this theme is not only that it is short and memorable but the youth seem to really connect with it. Many times throughout the week when the youth have had a break in their B-Excellent Pacts you can hear them and their lead/teen using language like "that wasn't very kind" or "I will try to be kinder." This language is familiar to the youth. The message is made more clear when they get to watch video clips of how one random act of kindness can create a ripple effect or when they get to experience what is is like to live without sight and can feel what other peoples lives are like. Our youth are learning how to choose kind in all the things they do!

By Sandy Quispe

 

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.

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Time Capsule

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I wandered into the B-SAFE Humanities classroom this week where John Dwyer has been working and saw a table covered with cards. “To My Future Self” the cards were addressed. Inside, B-SAFE Learners had written down how they were feeling at the time they made them, “I Feel….” they began. “I Feel Happy!” “I Love Camp!” but also “I Feel Depressad (but I like John)” I love this creative spelling btw.

In my desk at home, I have a letter that says, “Do not open until 2077!” I had written a letter to my future self. From time to time, I open it. I used to find it embarrassingly goofy, but now I find it an amazing encapsulated report of a particular time in my life.

It occurs to me that many of the moments we share with children in our daily lives are time capsules--each act of kindness and teaching can make an indelible impression on a child’s life, as they carry it with them. To us, the moment may be quickly forgotten.To a child, the moment can be everything.

I still remember a camp counselor who made a dandelion chain for me one afternoon. I remember making stained glass cookies in a summer art camp. I remember a summer art teacher who was kind to me and complimented a large papier mache pig I had made and urged me to work on it some more--”it’s good! Keep going!”. In fact, I still have it and my family won’t let me throw it away! A papier mache cat my daughter made sits right next to it (she’s almost 23 now).

From childhood summers, I remember specific popsicles, art projects, splashing in fountains, eating a potato cooked in a campfire, but more than that, people who affirmed me and what I was feeling in the moment--whether that was “happy” or “depressad!”

So to the volunteers, the staff members, the families, and the supporters of B-SAFE, I would say,  please remember that the small things that you do and say can be of huge importance to the young people--affirming a feeling, sharing lunch, drawing a picture together, helping with a band-aid, reading, leading a field trip: these moments of kindness become part of a child’s memories and a big part of who that child becomes. Don’t ever underestimate who you are in a child’s life.

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By Kate Hornstein

 

Kate is Director of Development at SSYP until August 9th. Kate is also a volunteer writing tutor, choir geek, pug lover, aspiring novelist, and mother to two wonderful young people.

Ramsay Park Renaissance - A Timeline

2015 - Ramsay Park is identified by families in the B-READY program as a major safety concern for the neighborhood. Teens plan a summer full of basketball leagues, tennis clinics, community barbeques, and other activities to promote healthy, youth-centered fun in the park. The teen community organizing team asks Mayor Walsh for Ramsay Park to be renovated.

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2016 - Mayor Walsh announces in his State of the City Address that Ramsay Park will undergo a $2 million renovation beginning in the next year. In the summer, teens paint a mural, organize a peace walk, perform in an arts celebration night, and plan a community clean up.

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2017- As trash piles up in the park, community meetings engage neighbors in planning for the new park, and finally in September, ground is broken for construction!

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2018 - Young people are enjoying the beautiful new facility everyday in B-SAFE this summer!

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By Sarah O' Connor, Organizer and B-SAFE Site Manager

 

Sarah started working with SSYP in the fall of 2014 as a Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (JOIN) fellow. Sarah works with young people to organize for issues that affect youth across the city of Boston, like funding for public education and teen jobs, and on local neighborhood anti-violence campaigns. Sarah believes that a city that works for the young people in the SSYP family is a city that works well for everyone.

The Power of Words

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Throughout these past few weeks, I have continued to be amazed by the young scholars. Their incredible awareness and insight have been a joy to witness. Every day they are teaching me something new, such as how powerful our words can be. When I have phrased things in particular ways, they catch on immediately and make new connections. For instance, during one of my classes on Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too”, we were discussing racist actions and why they hurt and one of the scholars piped up and said, “Because it’s like sandpaper”. Talking about sandpaper words vs. cotton ball words was the very first lesson I taught the scholars. It was a lesson on how we want to practice using words that make people feel like cotton balls inside, comfortable and nice, not rough and painful like sandpaper. After a week passed in which I didn’t mention the first lesson again, this scholar remembered and connected it to our current lesson! I realized then how, in my position of power, my words held power as well, and they were making an impact on these scholars. Seeing the influence I had on these scholars reinforced my confidence and the passion I have to bring my best every day for them.

By Sharon Lu

 

Sharon is a rising junior at Wellesley College where she studies Philosophy and Peace & Justice Studies. Through Wellesley's Lumpkin Institute, she learned about St. Stephen's and is now working as an Academic Intern on the A-TEAM. Sharon discovered her passion for community service in middle school and continued to pursue it throughout high school where she volunteered with non-profits such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Although she does not know yet what her career plans are after Wellesely, she is dedicated to working with underserved communities. In her spare time, Sharon enjoys going for long walks, philosophizing with friends, drawing, and watching Grey's Anatomy.

JCITs take College!

“It is too early to start thinking about college!” - said no one ever

On Friday, July 20th, the JCITs from Epiphany and St. Augustine and St. Martin traveled their way outside of the city into Fitchburg, MA. The scenic route wasn’t something we got the opportunity to see often. Long roads, lots of trees and green on green was a nice break from the city skyline and the millions of cars and pedestrians we see on a day-to-day basis. As we got off the bus, we were greeted by long-time St. Stephen’s friend and supporter, David Weiss, who is the Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Fitchburg State University. It was apparent that both he and the JCITs were excited to get the info session and campus tour started!

The info session was exactly what the JCITs needed in order to become familiar with Fitchburg State University, learning about it’s majors, minors, mission and extracurriculars. They were encouraged to ask a lot of questions, which they began to do even more when they realized popsockets were the reward! Our ninth graders were informed about financial aid, scholarships, what the university looks for in their applications, and that video gaming and nursing are two of its most popular fields of study!

We moved our way onto the campus tour, where the JCITs had the chance to see the recreation center, a dorm room, a lecture hall, the library and best of all, the university’s new science building! Along the way, the JCITs continued to ask good questions and every once in awhile I would hear one of them say, “This is such a cool college” or “I want to go here!” With a beautiful and sunny day, lunch being provided and wonderful tour guides, the JCITs left feeling good about the day and their ability to find a college that fits their needs and interests.

As a young adult who moved across the country to go to college, I believe in the importance of exposing our youth to places other than those they grew up in. This field trip will help the ninth graders realize that there is so much more out there than just Boston and that they don’t have to go to college right near their homes. New places bring new people, new experiences and new perspectives!

Thank you David Weiss and all those involved in the planning of this visit! We cannot wait to bring our ninth graders back to Fitchburg State University next summer!

By Bella Vidana, JCIT Coordinator

 

Bella joins us as an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow and began in August 2016 as the Junior Counselor-in-Training Program Coordinator for our academic school year programming. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies and Human Services from Lesley University, she comes with a love and passion for providing the ninth graders she works with, with a compassion-filled, engaging and social justice driven environment. Bella is from Carlsbad, California and moved to Cambridge, MA in 2012 after being recruited to play NCAA Division III soccer at Lesley. She will complete her second year of service at the end of July.

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Living Respect! Questioning Toxic Masculinity

How did we get to a place where it is ok to consider women's bodies a symbol of weakness and fragility? When for most of us it is our passage leading to existence in the game of life. I love basketball, and think that for those engaged in playing the sport, we learn and teach many lessons. When Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors put his finger in LeBron James’s eye during one of the most watched games in this sport, the finals, instead of apologizing, he called him (LeBron) a derogatory term referring to the female genitalia. One does not have to be a father or a husband to think of this as problematic and endemic to one of our many dilemmas, “toxic masculinity”. 

We men have been taught behavior and vocabulary that’s toxic and violating to our communities and when this toxicity is left un-interrogated and unquestioned, it festers and gets handed over to the next generations of men, our young boys. With this said, I think it is easy to see how one of the most famous athletes in the world can have the power and advantage to extend these lessons at an accelerated and bigger scale. Can you imagine how many young boys around the world were watching that game? Is it still surprising why more people report of being violated by men and boys in many communities?

At B-SAFE this year I will be using all the tools I have as an Applied Drama and Theatre practitioner to lead a series of workshops with young men at both St. Stephen's and at Epiphany. Our curriculum is titled Live Respect, and it states clearly that toxic masculinity is not to be considered a right of passage into manhood. Our goal in these dialogues is to have this challenging and less-discussed topic, masculinity, broken down and questioned, in a safe, brave and well resourced environment. As a father and a theatre practitioner, I am a firm believer that participants/young people are not empty vessels. The young men are teaching each other what they have learned thus far in their young lives. They must learn to question themselves and their peers about the "Box that Men are Placed in", the rules of subscribing to this box, and how can one negotiate a way out of the biases and stereotypes of being male members of the community.

I think we got to this place by not having these difficult conversations about how we refer to woman’s bodies as symbols of our humiliation. I think we got here as men through being dehumanized ourselves and made to feel disempowered, making us also want to dehumanize and disempower others in our communities who seem less strong, less important, not as physically strong as some of us might be. So when Draymond acted in the ways he did, he wanted to dehumanize LeBron and hope that everyone else considers him (LeBron) less of a man, less brave and less strong as he (Draymond) is.

By Butana Molefe

Butana Petros Molefe started working as a community developer in his teen years after he successfully completed his Grade 12 in Orange Farm, a township south of Johannesburg-South Africa. In his work as a Facilitator/ community mobilizer he has had the honor to meet and converse with global statements such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the beloved Reginald Desmond Tutu. His areas of research are HIV/Aids, LGBTQ, Sexual Health, Community Enhancement, Gender, Sexuality, Social Justice and more. Recently, through his work Butana travelled to countries such as Botswana, Taiwan, and the US. Apart from his professional work, Butana also volunteers his skills as a theatre maker, theatre scholar, an applied theatre practitioner, a community developer to organizations such as the Soweto Kliptown Youth Foundation, Tshulu Trust and the Hillbrow Theatre, to mention but a few. Butana also holds a Masters Degree in the Arts, and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Divinity with the leading seminary in the world, Harvard Divinity School.

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Choose Kind

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This summer has already shown me so many ways to share kindness.  The most rewarding part of my job here is seeing the smiles on our participants' faces. I see smiles while reading our theme book Wonder, as they experience the exhibits at the NE Aquarium while watching the jellyfish wiggle through the illuminated water, and as they enjoy a family style lunch together with their friends. As a teacher, there is no greater joy than to witness the wonder in a child's eyes as they concentrate intensely as they paint a still picture of a plate of delicious donuts or play soccer competitively.  

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It has also been a summer of immense personal growth. Coaching first time teachers and young adults who show a passion for sharing their knowledge, hearing their stories and challenges, and encouraging them to think of themselves as enough, reminded me of what teaching really means. Sharing my days with the amazing collection of humans that do this work for the same reason that I do this work was a true pleasure...make our participants Feel Safe, Feel Big, and Feel Connected!

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By Christina Vidana, Academic Administrator

Christina Vidaña started with St. Stephen's as an Academic Specialist teaching Humanities in June 2017. This year she comes to us as the Academic Administrator responsible for the LEARN side of the program (400+ elementary participants). Christina has 12 years of experience in education and is fulfiliing her passion as a Third Grade Teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Grammar School. She has a zest for life and absolutely adores her scholars and working with children. She has been married to Dann for 27 years and has two beautiful daughters who are also involved with St. Stephen's, Bella and Sophie.

Activism through Poetry

“They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.”
-Langston Hughes

I gave my students a task to analyze and deconstruct one of Langston Hughes’ most renowned poems this week. They. Mastered. It.

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Not only did they work within their groups, but they were also constantly remarking on the closeness of the poem, written in the 1960s, to more contemporary works. One of the fifth grade participants connected Langston Hughes to Childish Gambino and his song titled “This is America.” Others were choosing specific words or phrases in the poem that were significant to the poem as a whole. Giving these participants the space to think on their own and the feeling of having a pen in their hand and the authority to speak for themselves is remarkable. As the supposed adult in the room, I found myself guiding the conversations less and less. I spoke with the other specialists in the room and said, “I don’t even have these conversations in some of my college courses.”

The participants enjoyed having the space to think critically of a poem that is relevant today and the opportunity to talk about the impact of words on society and on the self.

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By Anani Galindo

Anani is a rising senior at Wellesley College, majoring in English and Spanish. During her junior year, she worked with the Wellesley College’s Civic Engagement office where she was first introduced to the St. Stephen’s program and is now interning here as a member of the Academic Team. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA and moved to MA for college. She loves to travel (will be going to Santiago, Chile in the fall!), go for runs, and loves to cook!