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.

Fostering A Lifelong Love of Literacy!

Most library classes at the Blackstone Library begin the same way-- twenty or more students file in, place their books in the “return” bucket, and take a seat on the rug.  If the class is kindergarden, there is usually a little bit of squirming on the rug.  If the class is third grade or older, at least one student might inquire about the status of the library’s most popular collection,The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Once the class is comfortably seated on the rug, one of the librarians will read to them.  For the older classes, read alouds might include a chapter of the Roald Dahl book the class is reading together.  For younger classes, the story might be a Mo Willems picture book that even has the teacher laughing.  Following the read-aloud, the students have time to look through the collection and select one to check out for the week.

The library currently sees nineteen classrooms on a weekly basis, from the three-year-olds in K-0 to the fifth grade, the oldest grade at the Blackstone.  The librarians are all volunteers; they are each committed to overseeing some of the thirty-minute library classes that happen every day of the week.  Yet--and not surprisingly--the most popular member of the library team is a knit red dog mascot named Clifford.  Students are very interested in his book selections, even though he usually has has his nose in a book about himself or other dogs.  The library is also a space shared by other programs at the Blackstone School, including Big Sisters and Starfish, City Year’s after school program.    

This year marks the sixth year of Blackstone Library, the product of the thriving partnership between St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and the Blackstone Innovation School.  Previously, the school did not have an operational library and the space the library currently occupies was a dusty, musty space used for storage.  Once the Blackstone made the need for a library known, St. Stephen’s, along with Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, came together to clean the space, collect and organize books.  Leaders worked with the school’s staff to integrate the library into the Blackstone.  Volunteers from Wellesley and Simmons College were also instrumental in the foundation of the library.  The library officially opened on March 2nd, 2010.  The ribbon cutting ceremony was part of the Blackstone’s Read Across America Day celebration, a holiday that coincides with Dr. Seuss’s birthday!

At the launch of this school year, the library welcomed a new Library Coordinator, a new Blackstone Partnership Coordinator, and a handful of new volunteers!  These volunteers include a group from the Emmanuel Gospel Center, located across the street from the Blackstone.  One EGC volunteer shared how happy she was to be involved with a neighboring school on a regular basis and how much the staff, including their director, enjoyed interacting with their class.  Because of their support, an additional kindergarten class is able to regularly come to the library!  In addition to welcoming more kindergarten classes, the library is hosting Multiple Disabilities classes for the first time this year.  The library is also working to add more Spanish language books to its 10,500 volume collection.

Volunteers help students check out books in the Blackstone Library

Volunteers help students check out books in the Blackstone Library

Clifford reads about Clifford!

Clifford reads about Clifford!

Students learn to love reading together

Students learn to love reading together

To volunteer as a classroom reader during this year’s Read Across America Day Celebration at the Blackstone on Friday, March 4th from 1-3PM, or to learn more about ways to get involved with the Blackstone Library, contact Maureen Burns at

Mayor Spotlights SSYP Teen Organizing

In his State Of The City address last night, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh unveiled plans to to renovate Ramsay Park, thanks to the efforts of SSYP's teen organizers. The Park is one of the few green spaces in the Lenox neighborhood, which is home to one of our year-round program sites. Despite its potential to be a family-friendly recreation space, it has long been an epicenter of drug use and violence in the neighborhood. SSYP's teen organizers came together last winter to plan the park's transformation as part of the B-PEACE for Jorge anti-violence initiative. (Read the Boston Herald Article, which includes video footage, here.) 

The teens' efforts spurred the formation of a coalition, Friends of Ramsay Park, that fosters greater collaboration between community organizations. Teen organizers led cleanup days, painted murals, planted bulbs, planned summer evening athletic programming and created family events. Their efforts to make the six acres safer have engaged city and law enforcement officials in dialogues about larger neighborhood issues including gang activity, homelessness, addiction, and mistrust of law enforcement. Noting that he "grew up in his neighborhood's parks" the Mayor said he is committed to improving parks throughout the city.

SSYP's Lenox Neighborhood Organizer, Sarah O'Connor who attended the Mayor's speech along with teen organizers and Director of Youth Programs, Liz Steinhauser commented, "We are thrilled that Ramsay Park is getting the kind of resources and attention from the city that the neighborhood deserves! This has been a community-wide effort that would not have been possible without the hard work and commitment of many individuals and organizations including (but not limited to) Vibrant Boston, Northeastern University, Washington Gateway Main Streets, D-4 of the Boston Police Department, the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin and the City of Boston Department of Youth Engagement and Employment. Thanks again to everyone for being part of this exciting new chapter in the story of Ramsay Park." 

To find out how to get involved, please contact  Sarah O'Connor.  Read press coverage:




Building Relationships Across Boundaries

On a recent Sunday afternoon, five teen Community Organizers joined the youth group at St. Paul’s in Natick for an evening of relationship building, crafts, and pizza. The connection between the two teen groups began in October when teens from St. Paul's came to the South End for a workshop on youth leadership. The workshop left both groups curious to know more about each other!

At St. Paul’s, the teens discussed the values they share and made collages depicting them. The groups came together to combine their pieces into two larger collages, one for St. Stephen’s to take home and display and one for St. Paul’s to display.  

During dinner, the organizers from St. Stephen’s invited the youth from Natick to join them in January for the 6th Annual Martin Luther King Day of Action.  In addition to working on service projects, the Teen Community Organizers will be hosting a workshop focused on the importance of youth jobs and the upcoming Youth Jobs Rally in February!  

Posted by Maureen Burns, South End School And Community Organizer