The Evolution of College Access: How We are Supporting Teens for Long-Term Success

  Students engage in interview practice.

Students engage in interview practice.

For the past twenty years, the college access programs all over Boston have focused their energy primarily on getting students into college. Energy and resources have been dedicated towards helping low-income and first generation students overcome the variety of obstacles that exist during the college admissions process. However, as the effectiveness of these programs increased, a new problem presented itself that had a dramatic effect on students all over the city; college completion. While students were getting into college at increasing rates, they were also dropping out of college without any degree and amassing tremendous debt. In many ways, students were worse off then they were before going.

In fact, “A 2008 study by Northeastern Universitys Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS) and the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) found that only 35.5 percent of the BPS graduates from the Class of 2000 who had enrolled in college had completed college seven years later.” Even worse is that fact that “When the districts exam school students were excluded, the number of BPS graduates who had enrolled in college and had completed college within seven years fell to 24 percent (Sum, A. et al., 2008).”

  CITs participate in a college prep workshop focusing on planning the future.  

CITs participate in a college prep workshop focusing on planning the future.  

St. Stephen’s has been witnessing this firsthand, having watched several alumni over the years drop out of college saddled with debt because of a missed payment, a failed class, or a lack of support from the institution of higher education. The new vision of the College and Career Program at St. Stephens is to empower students to think through their future goals, and support their development of a post-high school plan. By changing the narrative that 4 year college is the only measure of success, we are able to help match students with a post-high school plan that best fits their personal goals, to help ensure long term success.

  Teens, Specialists, Site Assistants and Site Directors participate in a resume workshop.

Teens, Specialists, Site Assistants and Site Directors participate in a resume workshop.

Our goal is to not only support students through the college application process, but also to partner with schools like Bunker Hill, Wheelock, Northeastern, Pine Manor, Benjamin Franklin, and many more, to help ensure that students are supported throughout their entire post-high school experience. In addition, St. Stephen’s is hoping to continue to increase the ways in which we support our alumni through academic tutoring, mentoring, college visits, and much more. It is imperative that St. Stephen’s continue to provide the resources necessary in order to help our alumni overcome the vast number of obstacles that higher educations presents, in order to ensure that they are on a path towards successful adulthood. If you are interested in getting more involved in this program, you can e-mail Jeremy at

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, College and Career Program Coordinator

Jeremy graduated from Colorado College with a Degree in Political Science and Urban Studies in 2012. He comes to St. Stephen's through the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship program, an AmeriCorps program that focused fulfilling the needs of our youth by providing: a caring adult, a safe place, a healthy start, a marketable skill, and an opportunity to give back. Jeremy is passionate about increasing low-income students' access to higher education and helping students successfully complete their post-highschool plans. He currently serves as the College and Career Program Coordinator during the school year, and a Teen Staff Coordinator over the summer. 


  Teaching specialists worked with young people to process this week's events.

Teaching specialists worked with young people to process this week's events.

B-SAFE’s motto “Feel Safe, Feel Big, Feel Connected”, permeates every aspect of the program including Academics. Teaching specialists are committed to providing a safe space for young people to take academic risks and explore new things. Teaching specialists also ensure that all young people feel big by accomplishing small assignments that are the skeleton to a big final project that connects them to their current communities and the future they would like to create.

These amazing teaching specialists came together on Friday, July 8th to discuss the work they are doing with young people and to adjust their teaching to meet the needs of the individuals they are working with. The timing of this workshop added a layer of understanding for why the work we are doing is so important. The week was the week of the murder of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and 5 Dallas police officers. As the national news cycled through whose lives matter we discussed that our youth’s lives matter and the work that we do with them might not shield them from the broader atrocities of the world but it can empower them to navigate the social issues that entrap our nation. “We have the opportunity to create the future and decide what that’s like.” We hope to empower them to create the future where we can all “Feel Safe, Feel Big, and Feel Connected.”

  Teaching specialists during a mindfulness activity reflecting on recent events during workshop.

Teaching specialists during a mindfulness activity reflecting on recent events during workshop.

By Kemarah Sika, Director of Academic Programs

Kemarah rejoined the St. Stephen’s community as the Director of Academic Programs in 2016. In the past, she served as a member of the B-SAFE team in a variety of capacities including Teaching Specialist, Site Director, and parent of a participant. Most recently, she was the Director of Library & Media Service and the Learning Experience Designer at the Cambridge School of Weston, a 9-12 progressive education school. She has worked in K-12 education since 2001 in many roles including libraries, technology integration, after-school programming, and curriculum development.  Kemarah is delighted to bring her experience to St. Stephen’s Youth Programs in a full time capacity and to have the opportunity to work in her community to serve the youth of Boston.


Through “The Well” Window

Since I started working at SSYP about four months ago, I’ve been walking around Lower Roxbury with my camera. I like to take pictures of hidden, or surprising places of beauty--and I’ve found them: a “meadow” of tall-growing chickory and Queen Ann’s lace behind a chain link fence, a grand oak tree in the middle of a public playing field, a humble  bit of “stained glass” made up of stick-on translucent plastic on a cellar window, a Pentecost origami dove mobile in the sanctuary of St. Augustine and St. Martin.

Yesterday, I stood in the kitchen, off “The Well” at St. Augustine and St. Martin, warming up my lunch. “The Well” acts as a gathering place for church members, but also serves as a quiet place for SSYP’s young people to meet with volunteers and work on reading, or gather in small groups with teen leaders.

 DEAR time at St. Augustine and St. Martin

DEAR time at St. Augustine and St. Martin

The wall that separated me from the young people is really a kitchen pass-through but it provided a kind of frame to look in on them and see Day 1. Here’s the picture that I saw: two teen counselors, on the brink of adulthood, standing in front of the younger kids, and acting as leaders. I sensed that the teens were a bit nervous, but at the same time, the training they’ve received over the past few months has made them confident. When they asked the younger kids to “DEAR” i.e. “Drop Everything And Read” they were firm, but they also made it sound exciting. The kids were falling over each other to grab a book, which they were excitedly showing to their friends: comparing titles, and saying things like “I’ve read that one! That’s good!” The teens were trying to both encourage the kids, while at the same time exert crowd control: not an easy job!

I ran back to get my camera but then I realized that I don’t need it. Scenes like this are going to be unfolding here all summer and I’ll be here to catch them. I am looking forward to seeing “pictures” of young people “creating the future” for both themselves and others all summer and beyond. I think they will surprise us (and themselves) with what they can do.

By Kate Hornstein, Director of Development and Communications

Kate Hornstein is Director of Development and Communications at St. Stephen's Youth Programs. She enjoys walking around in Boston neighborhoods with her pug, Yodel, taking photos.


Growing Together at B-SAFE

What is this summer's theme? Is it "We are Awesome," or "We Hold the World in our Hands," or "We create the future?"  This is my sixth summer with the B-SAFE program.  They all blurred together after a while.  While things may be blurry, being here for that amount of time has allowed me to see growth.  And by growth, I don’t just mean seeing participants come back year after year a couple inches taller, and with different voices. Youth that were once part of our LEARN program are now participating as YLC.  I mean I have seen growth in attitudes, growth in maturity, and growth in awareness.  

Even I have grown at B-SAFE. I started off as a LEAD for three years at St. A&M. And from there, I grew into a Site Director for Epiphany YLC.  That’s the cool thing about B-SAFE; everyone has the opportunity to grow.  This year my staff is made up of three young women who all started off as CITs (Teen Staff) here at Epiphany.  I met Nuribis, Erondina, and Chaia in the summer of 2014. They were juniors in high school and I was a first-year site director. We were all trying to find our place within YLC, and learn how 10 through 13 year olds interact with the world.

Together, we learned how to eat in 15 minutes or less, how to dance and nae-nae, what it means to be on “fleek”, and how to “ force it”.  After three summers together, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know how to push each other and when to offer each other a break. It has been an honor to watch them transform from awkward counselors in training who didn’t know how to mop the floor to strong empowered women who can take charge of a group of 20 middle schoolers.

We have lived the themes. They are awesome, they will create the future, and it is in their hands to make a better world.  

Just look how much we have grown.


By Diana "D" Colón, Epiphany YLC Site Director

Born and raised in Puerto Rico. I came to Boston 9 years ago for a job and been here ever since. I spend my time teaching small children how to read and write in both English and Spanish. As well as teaching them some counting, addition and subtraction. I have spent my last 5 summers with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. My favorite number is 3 or 11. I like my coffee strong and sweet. And I got a soft spot for animals. I’m a firm believer that a smile can open doors, and nothing is impossible con un poco de paciencia y fe.

Employing Teens Aplenty

 JCITs arriving for their first day at Thompson Island

JCITs arriving for their first day at Thompson Island

The streets of Boston are bombarded with purple-shirt-wearing teenagers as 160 of them make their way to work. Our highest youth employment numbers ever come through our partnerships with the Department of Youth Employment and Engagement, ABCD, the Attorney General's Office, the Chelsea Collaborative, and St. Stephen's Youth Programs funding. 

Not only do the 160 teens participate in a fun, active and safe place to work but are also provided with 20+ hours of professional development and job training. This week, the teens learned about the effects of trauma on young people and the deep need to use the 8-Steps, the B-SAFE way of behavioral management, in order for children to feel safe, big and connected. In the training portion of the week the teens had to opportunity to learn about the Cycle of Socialization and reflect on their self identity.   

 ebecca Jackson training the teen group at Church of the Holy Spirit.

ebecca Jackson training the teen group at Church of the Holy Spirit.

By Kasey Boston, Director of Youth Employment and Leadership.

Kasey is in her 4th summer with B-SAFE and joined our team after completing her masters degree in International Education Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Kasey works with St. Stephen's Youth Programs year round and focuses on building professional development and life skills with teens. Kasey works to create service-learning opportunities for all young people and hopes to begin traveling abroad with teens this year.  

Water, Not Juice! The B-SAFE Way

With only 5 weeks of program, we have so many things to do! From field trips to general day play, learning, creating and exploring, we all need to make sure we stay hydrated and keep cool! Last Wednesday was 90 degrees outside! B-SAFE programs went on field trips and it was hot out. Everyone had so much fun exploring, learning and doing it all the B-SAFE way. None of the field trips could have been successful without everyone making sure to load up on water!

It’s very important to be sure we (staff and children in the program) are all drinking water, not juice, because our bodies literally depend on it!  With all the easily-available energy beverages and other sugar-packed beverages it can be so hard to ONLY want to drink water. But the sugar found in these drinks are not good for our bodies and are packed with tons of calories. Water consumption is essential to having a productive and safe summer. To the right you will find a diagram that shows just how important WATER is for the body and how it makes everything work correctly. 

We lose water in so many ways; going to the bathroom, sweating and even breathing! Water is lost much faster in the summer because it’s of how hot it is. If we do not replace the water we are losing with more water (not juice) we can become dehydrated.


Signs of dehydration include:

  • Dark urine color
  • Extreme thirst
  • Headache
  • Confusion

We at BSAFE always provide water for students and staff because we understand how important drinking water is! Let’s all have a great summer and make sure we are actively drinking water and not juice. 

Traciana is a Curry College alumni, Class of 2011, who majored in communications. This is her first summer with B-SAFE as a Teen Staff coordinator and definitely not the last! During the school year she works as a one-to-one para at an Elementary school in Brookline. Her favorite color is yellow. She has 3 brothers and 3 sisters.

Middle School State of Mind

I always think of the middle school years as a permanent roller coaster ride. This ride is very exclusive- you are lucky to get on it! I’m happy to say I’m one of those lucky people and so far it has been awesome!

  YLC Middle School Participants

YLC Middle School Participants

Our middle school program enrolls rising 5th graders to rising 8th graders. As you can imagine, the difference between 10-year-olds and 13-year-olds is sometimes huge! In less than five minutes you can go from a student needing something from you to a student that wants you to go far far far away. Then there are the wonderful moments when you sit in on one of their academic rotations and you hear them having a deep and smart conversation about the things that worry them when they think about their communities. And right when you hear them, you realize that even though they don’t act like they care about anything else other than their friends and cellphones, they in fact are taking it all in and processing it quietly in their heads.

Our young people are worried about gun violence and what it would mean if Donald Trump becomes the next president. They worry about schools not having enough money to give them the education they deserve and whether or not the police are here to protect them. As I think of Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and all the names and stories that don’t make the news, I realize how valuable the job we are doing with SSYP is. From the LEARN program through the YLC and Teen programs to our Community Organizers, we are supporting, teaching, mentoring, and guiding our participants to be part of the change. As hard as it seems, together we can and must improve our communities and provide young people with the safe environments they deserve to live healthy meaningful long lives.

  A visual representation of the things middle school students in our program worry about. Words that were mentioned more are bigger.

A visual representation of the things middle school students in our program worry about. Words that were mentioned more are bigger.

By Mayra Gende, St. Stephen’s YLC Site Director

My name is Mayra Gende. I moved to the US in 2001 and joined the SSYP family in 2013. I'm passionate about educational equity and I'm committed to showing our youth a world where they can question, change, and achieve anything they want. In my free time, I enjoy gardening, cooking, and pottery-making.

Wake Up and Create the Future!

  Creating the future with education!

Creating the future with education!

The theme at St. Stephen’s this summer is “creating the future.” It comes from a quote by the brilliant and multi-talented Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.

As someone working with children and teens at St. Stephen’s this summer, the idea of “creating the future” is meaningful to me. In our world, so many factors conspire to destroy futures, rather than create them. Patterns of racism, sexism, poverty, illness, oppression, etc. poison futures unevenly, impacting children from marginalized groups most severely. Inexcusably, our society often supports--both explicitly and tacitly--this foreclosing of futures. We must be vigilant, constantly critiquing the ways in which our society fails to support expansive possibility and full flourishing in every child’s future.

Mae Jemison was vigilant. She recognized and disavowed the constricting messages that society was telling her: that women cannot be scientists, that Black people should not be ambitious, and that young people cannot work hard. Even as society told her that “all futures matter,” it covertly signaled to her that her future as a Black woman held little promise.

Jemison took these damaging messages and used them to make her own future even more incredible. She saw the sexist and racist expectations of her teachers and peers as a challenge to prove people wrong. Today, she continues to live an incredible life that inspires others because of the way she reacts to society’s message of “limits,” proving that the real limits are in society’s limited imagination.

  Young people ready to learn

Young people ready to learn

Oftentimes, the young people at St. Stephen’s are likewise confronted with the message of “limits:” that the circumstances of race, class, poverty, and zipcode have preordained a limited future. The beautiful thing about working with young people, though, is that their imaginations refuse to be downgraded. They intuitively know that they have the power to “create the future,” one where they view society’s low expectations not as a barrier, but as fuel to propel them to unexpected heights.

  Catchin’ Bugs (not the boy discussed in the post)

Catchin’ Bugs (not the boy discussed in the post)

Yesterday, on the way to a field trip at the Boston Nature Center, I asked some of the kids about the future they hoped to create. I heard cries of “doctor” and “police officer,” but the answer that caught my ear was “butterfly doctor.” This gentle response came from one of the kids (not pictured) who is generally regarded as rambunctious and challenging. Already, society is spinning stories about his limited future: “he’s a troublemaker, he’s a wanderer, he’s unintelligent”... in defiance of these tales, the young boy talked about how much he loved bugs, worms, and dragonflies. He wanted to help butterflies that had been hurt! The innocent trust that a career of such delicacy and care even existed, much less awaited this boy in particular, pushed back on all my limited expectations. While I don’t want to downplay his genuine behavioral difficulties, it struck me that I had allowed society’s story of “limitations” to foreclose this boy’s future in my mind’s eye. Only when I invited him to create the future did I wake up to his authentic sense of possibility and compassion. May all of us who work with young people likewise invite them to create futures of hope, peace, and possibility. And let us wake up and join them when they actually do so.

By Cooper McCullough, Teen Staff Coordinator

Cooper is a recent graduate of Boston College’s Schools of Social Work and Theology & Ministry. He enjoys working with teens and children to increase resilience and build prosocial skills. Fun fact: he loves to waterski and spend his day on a lake with his family.

What’s Going Right When Everything is Going Wrong

As a member of the Academic Team here at St. Stephens, I’ve spent the past month painstakingly planning out every moment of our young people’s summer at B-SAFE. From fun at home days, to full-day field trips, to every second of an academic rotation, we have planned out the most idealistic, smooth running program that’s ever existed. Unfortunately, life happens. Academic rotations don’t stay on schedule because the post-lunch sugar rush is causing a surge of talking, our young people are exhausted in art class from a high energy health class, and sometimes just the heat in the middle of July is enough to derail a great day.

But here’s the thing about derailed lessons: they’re ultimately more engaging for our young people, and more educational for our teaching specialists. When lessons don’t adhere to the timeline, more often than not it’s because one of our young people has asked a question that leads us down a different path and allows our specialists to teach a deeper understanding of a subject that the class has expressed a genuine interest in.

My first experience teaching on the fly came with the presence of baby birds in the courtyard at St. Stephens. Instead of arts and crafts, the young people were more interested in figuring out why one of the babies was flying around while the other was sitting huddled in a corner. The day turned into a lesson on nature, animal care, health, and an eventual trip to the emergency vet. So while those paintings still sit unfinished, our young people now hold knowledge on subjects that would have been hard to teach in a classic classroom setting.

Regardless of how hard we try to preemptively perfect a classroom, sometimes the best thing to do is allow something to go wrong. 

By Jean Bellamy, PICS Academic Coordinator

Jean Bellamy is originally from Hillsborough, North Carolina, where she grew up surrounded by books and animals. She is a Psychology major at Princeton University interested in studying developmental and educational psychology with eventual hopes of becoming a teacher. In her free time, Jean loves to ride horses, read, and drink coffee at a furious pace!

B-SAFE 2016 Blasts Off!

Today, the B-SAFE Program launches into our seventeenth summer!  

Staff in purple T-shirts are welcoming hundreds of smiling, excited, and slightly nervous young people to our 11 programs in six neighborhoods across Boston and Chelsea (South End, Lower Roxbury, Uphams Corner, Codman Square, Mattapan, and Chelsea).


A recent New York Times op-ed by KJ Dell'Antonia described the importance of high-quality, affordable summer programs that include an academic component. In the absence of summer opportunities such this--programs like B-SAFE--the "lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for lower income families." Young people in the neighborhoods B-SAFE serves can lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills over the summer and studies indicate that they never make this up. Dell'Antonia notes that this gap keeps getting wider, and by the end of 5th grade, young people from lower-income areas are nearly three years behind their higher income peers in academic skills.

But it does not have to be this way! B-SAFE offers solutions. Research shows that the summer slide accounts for about half of this disparity in academic achievement, which means that young people in B-SAFE will stay on track for their reading and writing skills. Plus they find friends who are fun and a community of adults who care about and love them. Meanwhile, our team of teen organizers are meeting with public officials to create longer term solutions for the economic and educational issues in our cities. 

This summer, B-SAFE's theme is "Create the Future," taken from a quote of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space. Together, we will be building communities where EVERYONE feels safe, feels big, and feels connected. Together, we will be fostering a life-long love of learning that is evaluated not by standardized tests but rather by the quality of final projects and the enthusiastic engagement of students. Together, we will be creating experiences that enact a future with more love, more justice, more health, and (perhaps most importantly) more smiles!  

We are so excited that you are part of this solution and the B-SAFE community!

Now, BLAST OFF to a future of fun! 

By Liz Steinhauser, Director of Youth Programs

Liz Steinhauser joined St. Stephen's staff as the Director of Youth Programs in August 2003, bringing over 30 years of professional training and experience as a youth worker and community organizer to the position. Liberation theology developed her commitment to social justice; Girl Scouts built her arts and crafts skills and her repertoire of goofy songs. She is a graduate of Colgate University and Harvard Divinity School and lives in Roslindale with her modern family, including her eleven-year-old son, Heschel, who is studying to be an actor.

Reach Beyond 2016: Celebrating Our Seniors' Success

By Jen Cusack, Director of Leadership Giving

Last Thursday night at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, St. Stephen's Youth Programs brought over 130 people together to celebrate our 31 seniors on their successful high school graduation. We enjoyed a night of tasty food, getting to know each other, listening, and learning with our fantastic St. Stephen's seniors! 

Featured speakers included State Representative Byron Rushing; Student Speakers Tahnaree Evans and Alex Maizonett; Mentor Blake Sims; Alumni Speaker Pedro Cardoso; and SSYP Staff Tim Crellin, Liz Steinhauser, Kasey Boston and Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory. The event included a gallery of gorgeous senior portraits taken by former SSYP staffer Meg McDermott and featured on our Facebook page.

Many thanks to our generous sponsors, including our Lead Sponsor, the Plymouth Rock Foundation, and the following local business donors: El Centro Mexican Restaurant, Foodie's Market, Haley House, IBA Center for the Arts, Mana Escondido Cafe, Mela Modern Indian Cusine, Olympia Flowers, and Stephi's on Tremont.

We hope you'll plan to join us for next year's Reach Beyond in May 2017!

If you'd like to learn more, sponsor Reach Beyond 2017, or be a mentor to one of our teens, please contact Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory at


Field Trips and Fun During April Vacation

During April Break, we filled the week with field trips and fun! We took a well-earned break from academics and schoolwork to find out what we could learn from exploring some new places in the Boston area.

On Tuesday, we took a school bus out to Higham to discover World’s End, a so close to the ocean, we hiked, played by the water, and had a picnic lunch.

Wednesday took us up to Lincoln, Mass., to our good friends at Farrington Farm. Students planted seeds, built terrariums, painted with mud, and played fun games in the fields. Plus, the staff there took us all on a hike through the woods to learn about what nature in Massachusetts can hold in the spring.

Our last day of April Break was all about science, so we took the T to the Museum of Science. We found the best parts of the museum: the Lightning Show, the Discovery Center, Science in the Park, and much more. We ended the week with lots and lots of popsicles.

By Maggie Needham, Academic Coordinator and Lead Counselor

 Students enjoy lunch in the sun.

Students enjoy lunch in the sun.

 Learning about nature is fun at Farrington Farm!

Learning about nature is fun at Farrington Farm!

 Can YOU hold the whole world in your hands?

Can YOU hold the whole world in your hands?

Teen Organizing Team Testifies to Top Priorities

By Sarah O'Connor, Lenox Community and B-PEACE Teen Organizer

Senior Teen Organizer Tahnaree Evans testified in front of the Boston City Council about urgent civic priorities: investment of city resources for safer parks, fully funded and high quality public schools, and economic opportunities for teens! It was a hearing called by City Councillor Andrea Campbell, who represents Tahanree's neighborhood in Dorchester, to explore the network of youth programs in Boston that are working to reduce neighborhood violence. Tahnaree spoke powerfully about the ways that St. Stephen's Youth Programs is striving to create circles of care around each young people we serve, meeting their day-to-day needs and helping them to feel safe, big, and connected. She talked about her own experience as a Counselor-in-Training, mentoring younger students and helping  them grow and thrive. Tahnaree is now employed as a community organizer, fighting for justice and equity in the distribution of resources and opportunities for young people across the city. The teen organizing team (all 20 members!) were there to support her, and they finished the City Hall experience with a stop by the election division to register new voters. 

Sisters on the Slopes!

By Sandy Quispe, B-READY Lead Counselor

On Saturday February 27th, girls from St. Stephen's YLC (Youth Leadership Corps) and S2POT Programs hit the slopes!  Thanks to Youth Enrichment Services, eleven girls and four women went on a ski trip. Youth Enrichment Services (YES) is a non-profit organization which provides affordable and exciting sports-based youth programs and leadership development for Boston children and teens.  During the week, the girls were able to go to the South End YES facility to learn about what YES does, where we were going, and get fitted with all of their gear (snowboard/skis, boots, snow pants, jackets, etc.) 

This is a trip that has been happening over the years and our girls love it! We met early on Saturday at YES. The girls got on a bus that took them to Cranmore where Olympian Julia Ford was attending a ski race. The girls met Julia Ford, asked her questions about her career, and even got to take a picture with her! 

YES placed the girls into small groups  to teach them the basics before allowing them to hit the bunny slopes. Most of the girls tried skiing or snowboarding for the first time ever. Despite a couple of falls, everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and came home on the bus proud, exhausted, and in one piece.  We cannot WAIT for next year's trip!

Celebrating Read Across America Day at the Blackstone!

By Maureen Burns, SSYP’s South End School and Community Organizer

On Friday March 4th, forty volunteers gathered in the Library at the Blackstone Innovation School in celebration of the Sixth Annual Read Across America Day sponsored by St. Stephen’s Youth Programs.  The library was decorated with a Dr. Seuss theme for the occasion; even Clifford The Dog sported a Cat in the Hat chapeau!  The event began with welcoming addresses from members of the Blackstone Executive Leadership Team and a City Year Corp Member, followed by a reflection from Bishop Alan Gates of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and Tricia Harvey, SSYP’s Library Coordinator.

After the celebration in the library, volunteers launched into an afternoon of read alouds.  Students were very excited to host volunteer readers in their classrooms.  A volunteer in the kindergarten class commented: “We loved the book we read in our small group. I was impressed! The Eiffel Tower was in the background on one page and before I could tell them what it was, they told me it was the Eiffel Tower and they knew all about it!”

The volunteers included Blackstone School parents, South End community members, members of faith- based organizations, and City Year sponsors. All of the volunteers shared their love of literacy with the young scholars of the Blackstone!

 Volunteers at RAAD listen to welcoming addresses.

Volunteers at RAAD listen to welcoming addresses.

 St. Stephen's Youth Programs has been coordinating the Blackstone Library for 6 years.

St. Stephen's Youth Programs has been coordinating the Blackstone Library for 6 years.

Coding is Cool at Career Day for LEARN

  Zac Delagrange, Software Engineer at BitSight Technologies, shows children code at career day.

Zac Delagrange, Software Engineer at BitSight Technologies, shows children code at career day.

By Maggie Casey, Site Director at St. Augustine and St. Martin

On Friday, March 4th, students at the St. Augustine and St. Martin LEARN program participated in a hands-on career day with visiting professionals.  Visual Artist and Post Production Film Editor Jasmine Vazquez took time off from her job at Peel&Eat to teach a rotation about careers in art. Harvard Physicist Dave Patterson lead activities about engineering and design.  Software Automation Engineer Zac Delagrange, from BitSight Technologies, taught the group about programming.  Zac is picture above answering questions and showing the children code.  It was a wonderful day of exploratory learning and we hope to do a follow-up career day later in the spring. 

Imagination Stations Spark Creative Learning

LEARN has spent the past four Mondays after snack in Imagination Stations. Imagination Stations are a way for our elementary students to spend an extended amount of time in project-based learning: for four weeks in a row, students spend time learning about a topic of their choice. Right now, the choices are: science, yoga, cooking, and singing.

The singing rotation is being taught by Kate, one of our volunteers from Boston College. Kate is part of the PULSE program at BC, which partners students with non-profits in Boston to serve two days a week, in conjunction with philosophy and theology classes, for the entire academic year.

During the PULSE students’ second semester at St. Stephen’s, we offer more leadership opportunities for them, such as leading Imagination Stations. Kate, who usually works with our YLC middle schoolers, volunteered to spend some time with LEARN to teach them singing.

A group of around fifteen enthusiastic elementary students chose to learn singing, and they have spent the past four Monday afternoons in the church, playing freeze dance, learning about notes and scales, and practicing a song that they will perform to the other groups at the end of the four weeks. Kate’s choice for them to sing? “Lean on Me.”

“The song promotes a feeling of community that I hope they feel at St. Stephen’s,” Kate said.

“I chose the singing Imagination Station so that we can show off our talents to the other groups” said Leiya, a second-grader in the group.

Learning to Listen During After-School

By Maggie Needham, Academic Coordinator and Lead Counselor

This trimester, the theme for our programming is feeling connected. During B-READY After-School, student spend all their time together with the other students in their groups. In LEARN, the Bridges (grades 1-2) have been spending the last couple weeks really working on building respect and community within our group.

One way that we’ve been learning respect is through practicing our listening skills. It’s important for us all to listen not just to staff members and volunteers, but to each other

Last week, we sat down in a circle and established a talking piece in our circle. We reviewed the expectations of using a talking piece: Whoever is holding it has their turn to talk. Whoever is not holding it has their turn to listen. No one interrupts. We each have a turn as the talking piece goes around the circle.

I offered a question to the group: Who is your role model?

We went around the circle. One student, Hanlet, smiled and referenced another student in the group: “My role model is my best friend Julean because he is fun and plays with me.” Another student, Jianna, talked about her mom, who is “always nice to me.” When a second grader, Chiyann, got the talking piece, she referenced the site director at St. Stephen’s, saying, “My role model is Mayra, because she makes a place where kids can go after school.”

Paying attention for so long is difficult for young people, and they still sometimes couldn’t resist a side conversation or a small outburst. But during this activity, the students focused on listening to each other, learning more about each other, and growing as a community -- learning to feel connected!

 Two students pose with their writing on a whiteboard: "I'm happy to be here!!!!!!"

Two students pose with their writing on a whiteboard: "I'm happy to be here!!!!!!"

JCRC's ReachOut! Program Reaches Out to Middle Schoolers

By Maggie Needham, Academic Coordinator and Lead Counselor


Twice a week, when our B-READY elementary schoolers get picked up at 6:00pm, St. Stephen’s offers Academic Nights, a space for teens and middle schoolers to spend time on their homework with staff members and volunteer tutors.

Many of our all-star volunteers during Academic Nights come from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). JCRC’s ReachOut! program connects young Jewish professionals who want to get involved in social justice issues to organizations like St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, and they have made a huge impact on our Academic Nights.

Since January, we’ve been implementing a new system for our JCRC volunteers to work with our middle schoolers during Academic Nights. Rather than having the volunteers be available to any students who want help, we have paired up each of our JCRC volunteers with a specific group of three or four middle schoolers who regularly attend Academic Nights.

This system allows students and volunteers to build ongoing relationships from one week to the next and creates continuity of support. The middle schoolers can now expect the same volunteer to be there, each week, to check up on them and their homework. This consistency helps to hold both our students and our volunteers accountable to each other. It also gives the students a key, expected person they can turn to every week for help.

We are grateful for our partnership with JCRC and can already see how our students and volunteers are growing during Academic Nights!

 Volunteers from JCRC's ReachOut! program do homework with middle school students

Volunteers from JCRC's ReachOut! program do homework with middle school students

 JCRC volunteers are matched with students for the whole semester, creating continuity in relationships

JCRC volunteers are matched with students for the whole semester, creating continuity in relationships

Sharing the Story of Our School Partnership

St. Stephen’s Youth Programs was honored to share the story of our partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School at the New England Providence All Our Children Conference.  All Our Children is a national network of school- church partnerships, of which St. Stephen’s is a founding member.

Our story began in 2010, when Blackstone’s test scores were in the lowest 5% of the state’s and the school started the Turnaround process.  At our after-school program, we saw that our Blackstone students were struggling in reading.  When we learned the Blackstone lacked a functional library, we could not overlook the opportunity for partnership.  Today, the Blackstone Library, which is entirely staffed by volunteers, welcomes 19 classes on a weekly basis.  Other school partners, such as City Year and Big Sisters, Big Brothers use the space as well.

In addition to sharing our story, our conference session focused on building relationships with the leaders in the room.  Fifteen church and school leaders come from New Bedford, Salem, Lynn, and the Cape as well as New Hampshire and Connecticut to learn from our partnership and share their own successes and struggles.  Across geographic areas, participants stated that their motivation for entering into a partnership with a public school was to provide the resources the school can’t prioritize.  With increasing emphasis on standardized test scores, schools do not have the in-house resources to provide programming in reading, physical activity, and the arts. This is where community partners, both faith- based and secular, can step in.

By Maureen Burns, School and Community Organizer

 Maureen Burns presents the story of St. Stephen's Youth Programs Partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School

Maureen Burns presents the story of St. Stephen's Youth Programs Partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School