On Monday, January 21, more than 130 people from over 20 community organizations ignored the arctic temperatures, donned winter boots, and made their way over to the Blackstone School for the annual MLK Day of Action. This is the ninth year that St. Stephen’s Youth Programs (SSYP) has organized the day of support for the school, along with key partners City Year, Friends of the Blackstone, Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), several Episcopal churches, and the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign.
The MLK Day of Action strives to advance the vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by combining work projects that improve the learning environment of the school with leadership workshops about issues of justice. This year, volunteers created scores of posters and window murals to inspire students, cleared out space for more effective occupational and physical therapy sessions, improved shelving and storage in the school library, assembled care packages for students to be distributed before April’s MCAS tests, organized the parent center and compassion closet for families, and added beauty and affirmations to the teacher lounge. Additional projects took place in SSYP’s afterschool space at 419 Shawmut Avenue, including a re-organization of the library there.
The leadership workshop began with motivational words from the South End’s new State Representative Jon Santiago and City Councillor Ed Flynn. Both politicians talked about their commitment to public education. SSYP Staff Organizers Ariel Branz, Rafaela Polanco, and Bar Kolodny taught about the process that Boston Public Schools uses to distribute money to schools and the impossible choices that school administrators must often make. Using popular education techniques, games and team competition, pie charts and rock-paper-scissors, the trainers helped participants understand the complicated system of funding and expenses that schools like the Blackstone face. As one elementary student said at the end of the workshop, “It was really fun. The training was good for six-year olds and sixty-year olds!”
As the training outlined, due to changes in status and formulas, the Blackstone School is facing a budget gap for the school year 2019-2020 and is eliminate $500,000 of staff and services from its already thin budget. This will likely result in the elimination of at least ten staff positions, including the family coordinator, school counselor, inclusion strand coordinators, classroom teachers, and other key roles that help to meet the educational requirements of Blackstone’s most high-need students.
Blackstone teachers and parents, community partners, and MLK Day volunteers refuse to accept choosing between meeting the needs of English Language Learners and Special Education students. Instead, leaders are working together to solve this educational emergency by pushing for the necessary, full-funding for the school. Participants in the leadership workshop made over 100 on-the-spot calls to Boston decision-makers in City Hall and the Boston Public Schools. Many of these leaders will be turning out again, this time wearing their dark-blue Blackstone “Ubuntu” t-shirts for the Wednesday, January 30 School Committee meeting at 6:00pm at the Bolling Building. State Rep. Santiago and City Councillor Flynn pledged their support for this effort and will be at the School Committee Meeting, too.
Leaders from SSYP and the Blackstone School invite community members to support the Blackstone as their neighborhood school. To find out more about Blackstone’s budget crisis, support teachers and families, or to volunteer in Blackstone classrooms and library, contact Liz Steinhauser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs