Bringing Together Teens and Alum for Long-term Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SSYP Alumna makes it BIG!

Among the programs of SSYP is our College Access and Success Program. In addition to supporting our teens who are in high school make a solid plan for their post-graduation lives, we also continue to offer mentoring and support to alumni once they are IN college (or another type of program).

One of our alumna, Perla Fernandez, graduated from BPS's Urban Science Academy in 2010. She and we were SO excited when she was accepted into and began attending Wheelock College, as the college has excellent justice-focused academic programs and we could continue to see her since she was right here in Boston! 

In 2014, Perla returned to St. Stephen's as part of one of her Wheelock classes, to serve as an Ubuntu Arts student facilitator.  She helped a team of SSYP teens  learn about the South African philosophy of Ubuntu. Perla served as a mentor for this group of youth by creating a safe space and leading discussions about discrimination, violence, peace, and social justice. Together, they created art [see attached] in response to their learning and feelings that was displayed at Wheelock College’s Towne Art Gallery AND qualified to be displayed at the State House for the annual Violence Transformed exhibit.

And now, that same piece of art will be going to the National Museum of Afro American Artists for an exhibit later this month!!  Congratulations, Perla, for this recognition of your project and for your upcoming graduation from UMass Boston with a Master's degree in Elementary Education! We are so proud of you and your hard work! 

Special thanks to Wheelock Professor Ann E. Tobey, of the Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy Program, for this information and for your dedicated commitment to running the Ubuntu Arts program every year! 

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

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. 

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


From Access To Success!

100% of St. Stephen's seniors graduated from high school.

100% of St. Stephen's seniors graduated from high school.

For young people in the neighborhoods we serve, earning a high school diploma is a huge hurdle. Last year, for a second year in a row, all nineteen of our seniors graduated from high school. That was amazing, given the fact that only about a third of their public school peers who enter high school achieve that goal. Their success reflects a lot of hard work on their part and a lot of support from us — one-on-one mentoring, academic enrichment, and college counseling. They all headed off with great plans for this fall.

For some time, we have known that getting into college is only the first hurdle. As we hear from from our alumni, making it through college is very difficult for young people who graduate from Boston Public Schools (BPS). In fact, The Boston Foundation reported that college completion rates among BPS graduates are almost as low as the district’s high school graduation rates.

Some teens experience “summer melt” and drop out before they actually enroll in college. Others become discouraged early on when faced with remedial coursework, overwhelming debt, and lack of support. Sometimes, students who are used to being portrayed as “success stories” in their communities drop out without telling anyone they are experiencing difficulty, embarrassed about not being able to meet the goals they have set for themselves.

The Success Boston College Completion Initiative was created to change the conversation from college access to college success. Based on their model, this year our mentoring program will include college students and we are developing an alumni support program to connect students with other SSYP alums, and campus resources.

If you are interested in being involved in this program please contact Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory

Posted by Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Massachusetts Promise Fellow, College and Career Program Coordinator