Voices of the Boston Renaissance

The team enjoying some rare downtime.

At the Renaissance school, we believe that everyone has a right to be heard. So I decided to let my teammates share their experiences at the school and in their service. This is what they had to say:

“Have you ever been so proud of something that you wanted to see what you could do with it? Well that is how I feel about this little club called Renaissance Writers. The first night of printing we were anxious to see how the newspaper would come out….. When the first copy shot out of the printer we were ecstatic. Everyone was raving about it! We couldn’t wait to get it to the school the next day. When we handed it out to the kids they were thrilled to see what they had accomplished. They wanted more than one copy so they could give it to their families.”

Katie Blanchette

“City Year for me was an answer to a higher calling. I became fixated on helping serve my country and the world as a whole since the age of fourteen…. I never felt more obligated and obliged to commit to anything of this magnitude or importance before. City Year for me became the answer to what I so desperately wanted to be a part of, and so, my journey began.”

— Lisamarie Indovina

“Upon entering City Year in August, I knew that I was about to embark on an amazing experience.   However, I didn’t realize that my expectations would be exceeded and that I would soon realize and find the thing that I am most passionate about in my life, that being service… time I have realized that this is something that I have never been so passionate about… City Year helped me find my calling in life.  It gave me the opportunity to realize and recognize my passions and what was truly important in life.  “

Eliza Cassella

“In the midst of the wonderful chaos that comprises a typical day at the Renaissance, there is one part of my day that has become a particular joy: the science block… However, my joy does not stem from the content matter, but rather the reactions and excitement of my twenty-six fourth graders. They consistently amaze me with their insight and keep me energized at the end of a long school day.”

Uma Venkatraman

“One difficult thing about our job is finding the balance between filling both the role of a teacher, and the role of a mentor… A person that can relate to the students, be there when they are needed, and also teach the youth new skills so they can grow as learners and individuals.  I try to come back to that story when the balance either tilts more to a particular side.   It’s all about the balance.”

Jeff Parks

City Year is a constantly growing organization, with new staff members, corps members, and volunteers coming in every year.  Each corps member is given the task each year of finding someone to “fill their boots.”  This is the idea that you will introduce someone to City Year and get them to give a year of service.  The boots, of course, refer to one of the centerpieces of the City Year uniform, the Timberland boots.  The idea of filling someone’s boots is very personal to my relationship with City Year.  My older sister, Katrina, served last year as a Corps member and returned this year as a Senior Corps member. .  Eventually, I was accepted into City Year and I “filled” my sister’s boots.  This is a huge part of my service because I have to live up to the standards that my sister created for our family.  But not only am I filling my sister’s boots but also my Team Leader’s, Kevin Dua….. I feel like a daunting task has been laid out in front of me but just the fact that I know who else has walked before me has inspired me to push ahead.

Graham Zinger

“I am one of two coursework point people for BRCPS that deals with all things literacy. It has been a whirlwind as we were faced with a new task for City Year and that is doing a ten- month research project based on a specific project that was based on concerns that were found in our schools and we hope to have this project grow to be rolled out to other sites with data that will better help sites all over the country. I was lucky enough to attend a brand new conference that was based around literacy at sites all over the northeast…         I am confident in saying that all sites took a lot of new things back to their sites to try out and the overall first WNLA was a big success. I personally think of those three days as eye opening experience as it was extremely beneficial to meet people from different sites and further my City Year mind’s eye, and knowledge of that fact that the sky’s the limit as to the support we can give the kids of the next generation. I will end with a quote from a speaker at the opening day that said, “These kids need your laughter.”

Elsie Sutton

““Gasp!” This is the sound that every Boston Renaissance Corps Member hears when encountering Jayda. A running hug and a huge smile are always the first thing Jayda does when seeing any City Year Corps member, even if she should be in a quiet straight line… Jayda, has an amazing personality and does not remember a single corps members name but always sees a red jacket and makes sure she gives whomever it is a huge hug. She has reminded corps members in the past that eating chocolate might not be allowed in uniform and always makes sure to complete the rounds of hugs and smiles to each and every corps member when picking up her sisters from starfish. These three girls [Jayda and her sisters] embody what City Year is about, spirit, discipline, purpose, and pride. It makes it easier as a corps member to know that City Year will be a constant entity in their lives long after the service year is complete.”

Kris Knapp

Rock the MCAS! Test Prep at the Reniassance

On Friday, March 18th the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School was abuzz with activity and anticipation. It was four days before the 2011 ELA MCAS and everyone, from the youngest kindergartner to the Superintendent, knew it. Children are not usually huge fans of standardized testing, and because of this, the school decided to do something to change that. For many years the school has held an MCAS rally on the Friday before the tests. This is done to get the students excited about showing all that they have learned. Naturally, it’s a big event at the school with a lot of hype.

Of course, we at City Year were eager to help out and add our own special touch to the assembly.

The assembly started an hour after lunch. Students from grades 4 through 6 filed in and there was much murmuring as students tried to guess what the spectacular show would entail. Our City Year team was seated in the front row dressed as various teachers and staff, to the delight of the students. We started off the assembly with a rendition of “Teenage Dream” which provoked screams rivaling any professional rock concert. The assembly then progressed with a 4th grade flash mob, a music video of the students made by a corps member, speeches from the superintendent and principal, finishing with the rap songs “Teach me how to study” and “This is how we do (Our MCAS)“. By the end of the assembly, everyone was pumped up and ready to do their best on the tests.

In the following week while testing, students put in their best work and more than a few were heard humming songs from the assembly. The entire school is assured in the success of the students.

Teachers, sutudents, staff and City Year all watch a scintillating performance at the MCAS rally.

Teachers, sutudents, staff and City Year all watch a scintillating performance at the MCAS rally.

Our Starfish Have Talent!!

This past Monday,  the corps members serving at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School held our monthly community meeting. We wanted the children to be able to showcase the talents they have that don’t always come up in the day-to-day routine of the school. The show had been postponed several times due to numerous snow days, but finally the show was ready to go on.

The students had practiced their acts for weeks and were ready to show off. The auditorium was set up and the parents were pouring in. Popcorn was handed out and the lights were dimmed. It was time to start!!

The show started with the corps members doing their rendition of “City Year State of Mind.” It was then student’s turn to show off their skills. They performed in acts such as “The Pretty Girl Rock“, “Teach me how to Dougie“and “Sweet Dreams” among many others. Parents were thrilled and many students expressed a desire to hold an encore performance later in the year. When all was said and done, it was one of the best events we’ve had at the Boston Renaissance School this year.

City Year members strut their stuff at the Starfish Talent show!!

The Boston Renaissance and Waffles!!!

Everyone left with a smile and a full belly, the hallmark of an event done well.

Last Tuesday at the Boston Renaissance Renaissance Charter Public School, we held an attendance breakfast for students who’d greatly improved their attendance over the past month. Our attendance coordinator, Jeff Parks, spearheaded this event. As you may have guessed from the post title, we offered them the incentive of homemade waffles. In addition to the delicious waffles we also offered three varieties of fruit juice, apples and real syrup from Vermont.

Children started arriving at around 7:30.  They were thrilled at what we had prepared for them. The tables were covered with paper that was, in turn, covered with messages and inspirational sayings from corps members.  These children had the chance to sit and talk with corps members candidly one-on-one that they may not normally see on a constant day-to-day basis.  This was a wonderfully enjoyable experience for both corps members and students alike.

The breakfast wrapped up at around 7:55, leaving students time to get to their classrooms before class started. Everyone left with a smile and a full belly, the hallmark of an event done well.

Jeff Parks, who headed the attendance breakfast, showing off for the students.

Breakfast at B-Ren

To show our appreciation for the teachers at our school, our team hosted a Teacher Appreciation Breakfast. The breakfast was set for 7:00 a.m., so setup started at 6:30.   Thankfully, the Positive School Climate team did a wonderful job in making sure everything was ready to go the night before and set-up was easy.

As the teachers started to arrive, we power greeted for them- cheering as they passed by us. Afterward, they were treated to such delicacies as french toast, homemade blueberry muffins and a breakfast casserole along with the standard breakfast fare of bagels, fruit and orange juice.

One of the biggest successes of the breakfast was the gift table. At Starfish on Monday, we asked students to paint flowerpots and make cards for their teachers.  This had the two-fold effect of re-enforcing the connection that students feel with their teachers and reminding teachers that they are appreciated.

The team even organized a fun activity in which we handed out markers and taped pieces of paper to the attendees’ backs.  Teachers then wrote why they appreciated one another on each others papers. The breakfast was a great success, as everyone left feeling full and with smiles on their faces.

Mr. Devan Brewer and a happy Starfish Student.

Starfish Community Meeting at the Boston Renaissance

Last Tuesday was my team’s last day at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School before the Thanksgiving break. While the day was filled with fun activities for the students such as potlucks and movies, my teammates and I were slightly wary of Starfish. Normally, Starfish consists of one hour of homework time and one hour of a themed activity focused on learning in a new way. However, since we were on the cusp of a major vacation, almost none of the students had any homework. So my team was a little concerned about how to keep the students engaged for around an hour with no officially scheduled activity. We needn’t have worried, the children were great!

Then it came time for the main activity, the Starfish Community Meeting. This is a Starfish-wide meeting we have at the end of the month to give the children a chance to reflect on what they’ve learned over the course of the month. They also get a chance to give feedback so that we can make changes to the program to better suit their needs.

It really was awesome. The kids loved being able to offer feedback, knowing that it would have some effect, which made them really enthusiastic to do so. Overall, the community meeting was a rousing success. I can’t wait for the next one!!

Several Corps members and a member of Starfish at the community meeting.

“Empire State of Mind”… try “City Year State of Mind!”

By Michael Kahan, serving at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School

One of the big traditions here at City Year is the community meeting. What is that you ask? It’s an event that takes place about once a month when one team gets to put on a performance, entertain the rest of the corps, and share a little bit about their service; obviously, creativity is encouraged. They get to tell the rest of the Corps about what they do in their own unique fashion. My team, the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School had our turn this past Friday. We did it in the form of a musical, in the spirit of the TV show “Glee”. We opened with a rap that was met with wild approval, so I thought it only fair to share it with the rest of you. It’s done to the tune of “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. We call it “City Year State of Mind” by Nora Ryan.

After the video, you can see some of the returning members from last year’s Renaissance team, helping my team leader through a tough time. Enjoy!!

“Yeah, I’m up in Somerville
Now I’m down in Hyde Park
Cruisin before dawn yo
But, yeah, I still got swagga
I’m the new Dua
And since I made it here
I can make it anywhere
Yeah, Kids see us everywhere
I hop on the 32
Ride down on the 32
I’m still on the 32
Brought me back to that McDonalds
Desperate times call for
Desperate measures
Catch me in first circle with my Timbaland swag on
Flying up three floors
swept out to the pod
We pledge daily
To do what Barney does so well
Monitor the screen for
Lexia reading
Math just do it- score
Outside recess structured chaos
Inside recess we’ve got mayhem
Nothin but fun for lunch
those transitions
what a ball when in the hall
Quite an end to the day
We mold starfish like clay
…tell by my exuberance that I’m most definitely from

old mill building where dreams are made of
there’s nothing they can’t do
the students of B-Ren
City Year will make you feel brand new
Loved and Inspired too
Let’s hear it for B-Ren, B-Ren, B-Ren”

Corps Member Casey and a student displaying a City Year state of mind.

Opening Day at the Renaissance

Last year, the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School (BRCPS) was in a 16-story high-rise originally used as an office building in downtown Boston. The space wasn’t exactly conducive to a normal elementary school experience; students had to take the elevator to class, there was no recess, and the bus drop-off and pick-up was an exercise in patience most days. When considering the unique environment that the students experienced in the old building over the years,  there was a strong, close school community that was undeniably present. There was never a concern about losing that positive atmosphere when transitioning to a new building and neighborhood.

This year, that move to the new Boston Renaissance in Hyde Park is complete. The school is now housed in a beautiful, three-story building that has been renovated for this purpose. The building is spacious and full of light. But it wasn’t properly inaugurated until October 18th 2010 – Opening Day for the new building.

Over the weekend, the final finishing touches were put on the building. Bright and early Monday morning the festivities began. The City Year team was performing a Power Greeting for important guests, including Mayor Thomas Menino, BRCPS Superintendent Dr. Roger F. Harris, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville and Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester. Several City Year staff members were also there, including our very own Dean of City Year, Charlie Rose.

The assembled crowd gathered in the beautiful new library for speeches and refreshments. After a few stirring words from the invited friends of the Renaissance, the guests were divided into groups and given tours of the school. Finally there was an assembly, where Voices of Renaissance choir sang, the newly formed Renaissance dance group performed and the City Year corps members demonstrated physical  training. It was a wonderful morning that left all involved knowing that this was the beginning of a bright new future for the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School.

The Boston Renaissance with Mayor Thomas Menino