After-School Starfish Graduation at the Hennigan

The City Year Boston CSX Team celebrated the last day of their After-School Starfish Program at the Hennigan School with a graduation ceremony and party! Each third, fourth, and fifth grader walked across the stage in the drama room and received a certificate commemorating the occasion. As part of the ceremony, students and parents attending were reminded of the importance of the City Year “Starfish Story,” which teaches that every individual can make a difference. Then, corps members gave each student a special surprise: a starfish necklace, in order to remember all of the learning, playing, and growing that’s happened since the beginning of the year. With a slideshow of projected photos from the year, a celebratory cake, drinks, and other food, it definitely was a happy day, though everyone was reluctant to leave. The after-school program was a place where corps members could give students more one-on-one attention with homework help. It was a place where students without a corps member in their classroom could still benefit from a role model figure. It also was a place where students could gain maturity and perspective through the lessons taught and corps members could regain some of their childhood through kickball, four square, and hockey. I truly will miss the experience of running the Starfish Program with my teammates, just as I’ll miss the actual “Starfish” that I’ve worked with and gotten to know.

CSX Health & Safety Festival: A Photo Essay

Today, CSX and their City Year Boston team organized the first ever CSX Health and Safety Festival at the Hennigan School. CSX, the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, the Boston Police Department, the Boston Fire Department, Smart Smiles, the Harvest Co-op, and Playworks all had stations and activities set up to give tips for living healthily and safely. The festival was successfully piloted in Boston and CSX hopes to duplicate the program with the help of all of the CSX sponsored City Year teams across the country.

Now for the photo essay…

A representative from CSX tells students how to be safe on trains and near train tracks.

Corps member Oriana Federico hands out CSX stickers, markers, and pencil cases.

The Boston Fire Department let students hold a fire hose.

A fireman is about to demonstrate how fast he has to climb the ladder when a building is on fire.

The fireman has almost made it to the top of the ladder, while amazed students and teachers watch from the ground.

Corps member Jose Espinal poses with a Harvest Co-op worker.

The Smart Smiles table informed students about the importance of dental hygiene.

One of the festival’s highlights was when the BPD demonstrated a bomb defusing robot. It zoomed back and forth around the field, picked up a corps member’s backpack, and even stole an orange cone from the Playworks station.

Coach Brian of Playworks ran several active games for students.

The day concluded with the announcement of the three CSX Safety Poster Contest winners from the participating students in third through fifth grade. CSX presented a framed copy of the winning poster to Ms. Sprott, the interim principal at the Hennigan.

The 2010 Serve-a-thon Mural Crew

On Saturday May 22nd City Year Boston hosted Serve-a-thon, the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year. Staff and corps members engaged around one thousand volunteers in community service projects in East Boston and South Boston. Such projects included planting gardens, cleaning up garbage, and painting benches, fences, and (my favorite) murals.

A select group called the “mural crew” had been hard at work for weeks leading up to Serve-a-thon. They’ve been serving as corps members and senior corps members by day and mural designing and sketching extraordinaires by night. The mural crew essentially created all of the murals painted in East Boston on Serve-a-thon day.

As part of the mural crew, I designed a mural for a basketball court at the Orient Heights Housing Projects in East Boston and gave some input for another larger mural at the same housing complex. On the actual day of Serve-a-thon, it was incredibly rewarding to oversee the volunteers painting my mural and the basketball court, as well as to watch the volunteers enjoying themselves. The best part, however, was when people from the neighborhood told me how much they liked and appreciated the mural. A woman even asked if she could take a photo of her daughter with me and another corps member in front of it.

The following are “Before,” “During,” and “After” pictures of the mural. What a difference!

Serve-a-thon definitely will be one of the most memorable experiences of my corps year!


Last Monday, the CSX Team performed at their third and final MCAS Rally of the year for students at the Hennigan. In order to prepare the third, fourth, and fifth graders for the math portion of the Massachusetts standardized test, corps members wrote an “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” skit and asked questions about preparation habits. Then four corps members on stage acted out the answer choices. For example:

“What should you eat in the morning before the test?”
A. Junk food
B. A well balanced breakfast
C. Candy followed by a five hour energy drink
D. Luke doesn’t eat breakfast because he’s a machine

Max Rogers, Team Leader at the Hennigan, sings an MCAS song to the tune of Justin Bieber's song called "Baby."

As funny as the skit was, the highlight of the rally was when Team Leader Max Rogers sang a new rendition of teen heartthrob Justin Bieber‘s famous song, “Baby,” as he played his guitar. Max changed the lyrics to the chorus from “Baby Baby Baby Ohhh” to “MCAS MCAS MCAS Ohhh.” The show also featured Paul Willis singing Ludacris’ rap portion of the song and the other corps members either played instruments or danced in the background. Students had the words on a song sheet in front of them, sang along, and continued to sing the catchy remake throughout the rest of week.

Old and New Faces at CYFK

Round Two of City Year for Kids was a great experience for me because I was a team leader for many of the same fourth graders that I had met back during  CYFK in February. On the first day of the April vacation program at the Ohrenberger School, my old campers kept running up to me and saying, “Yay! I get to be in your group again!” and “Sarah, I missed you!” It was great finding out that I, though not I alone, had provided them such a positive and memorable camp during the school vacation. Immediately, they asked what our Arts and Crafts, Team Building, Recess, and other activities would be.

On top of recognizing several familiar faces, I had the opportunity to meet students who either had never been to CYFK before or who had attended CYFK at a site other than the Ohrenberger. Both the camp veterans and the new-comers became fast friends. They wrote and performed skits together in Performing Arts, pretended to be food critics in Downtime Games, called themselves “little scientists” in science lab, and the whole group cheered each other on during the Field Day competitive games on the last day.

Because we at City Year Boston run the CYFK vacation program for the kids, I decided to let my campers borrow my camera and capture their own memories. Their photos, in addition to the ones I took, show how much CYFK meant to them, as well as how much it meant to me.

This is a collage of pictures that the students and I took. From the top left going clockwise, you see me and CYFK triplets that attended the Ohrenberger camp, two close-up silly face photos, the campers dancing in line, an outdoors group photo on Field Day, and a shot of the campers with our group’s amazing external volunteer, Emily from the AmeriCorps program Leaps for Literacy.

Growing Perspective on Earth Day at the Hennigan

Luke Watts of the CSX Team helps a teacher and student make a drum from recyclable materials.

Students and teachers at Hennigan Elementary celebrated Earth Day on Friday April 30 with a day filled with outdoor activities. With the help of EarthWorks, volunteers from Boston Cares, Simmons College and Playworks, and the City Year Boston CSX Team, students played games to help them understand the importance of protecting the environment.

First through fifth graders played predator vs. prey tag, pollination matching, and recycling hockey where they shot recyclables into three different goals marked “paper,” “plastic,” or “aluminum.” They also made musical instruments from discarded materials for a sing-a-long performance of “The Garden Song,” which goesInch by inch, row by row/Gonna make this garden grow,” …

The activity I ran for the duration of Earth Day was a Roots Relay Race. The game worked like a fire brigade. Students would stand in a line from a 10 foot tall tree to about 30 feet away. Representing a tree’s root, students passed cups of water and cards labeled with the names of nutrients from one person to the next until the person closest to the tree poured the water or placed the nutrient card onto the ground.

I think students learned a lot from Earth Day, while having fun. But I took away something from the day, as well, besides the fact that tree roots grow 2-3 times longer than the height of a tree. Throughout the day at the Roots Relay Race I saw every class in the entire school. And I realized I knew many more names and faces than just my students in after-school and my fifth graders in the three homerooms that rotate to my classroom for science, social studies, and/or reading. Even students that I didn’t remember meeting shouted out my name.

A student places a nutrient card on the base of tree during the Root Relay Race.

On Earth Day, I recalled hearing back in September that it’s important to always act as a role model to students because they’re always watching what behaviors you model. Also, the City Year story came to mind of how one good deed can cause a ripple effect of positive change. Well, I think I’ve thought of a new credo to describe my City Year experience. I’ve discovered that absorbing new experiences or extending your roots, allows you to grow as a person and then as you grow more you continue to expand your roots. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been aware of my personal growth, but seeing how many kids look up to me on Earth Day showed me the length and depth of my ties to the Hennigan.

Let Spring Begin!

Two students observe the buds they chose.

The sun is shining brighter, the daylight is lasting longer, and Hennigan Elementary students in City Year Boston’s After-School Program are ringing in the spring in their own way.

Right on the school campus is an apple orchard, so, as part of the “Our Environment” unit, students chose a flower bud on one of the trees. Then, they marked their bud by tying a piece of string with a nametag to the branch. Once a week for the rest of the school year, students will record and draw the growth of their flower buds.

Kudos to Earthworks, a fellow AmeriCorps program, for lending us such a great lesson idea!

City Year Boston, how have you incorporated the increasing warm weather into your students’ curriculum?

Hennigan Fifth Graders Visit the Otis House and Travel Back 200 Years

A picture of the Otis House Museum from Historic New England's website.

Tuesday March 23rd was debatably the best day of school that I’ve experienced the entire year, so how could I not write a blog about it?

I, as well as my CSX teammate Liz, accompanied three fifth-grade classes at the Hennigan Elementary on a field trip to the Otis House Museum in Beacon Hill. Built in 1796, the Otis House was the first of three houses occupied by Harrison Gray Otis, a wealth developer o f Beacon Hill who served as a Representative in Congress and Mayor of Boston, and his family.

To learn about life in Boston post American Revolution, the students took on character roles of actual people living in Beacon Hill during 1810 and learned about how they would have interacted with each other. For example, I was a servant employed by two of my students, but other roles included shopkeepers, fish vendors, hucksters, chimney sweeps, stucco workers, and merchants. The fifth graders also made plaster of Paris molds, toured the house’s elegantly styled rooms, and learned about the house’s restoration back to what it would have looked like two hundred years ago.

Has anyone else gone on a field trip with students and had as much fun (if not more) than they did?

MCAS State of Mind

When I look back on my City Year Boston experience a year from now, ten years from now, or even twenty, I think that one of the moments I’ll always remember was the skit and rap song that my teammates and I performed last Monday. 

We led an MCAS Rally for the fourth graders at Hennigan Elementary to remind them, in a funny and entertaining way, how they can prepare the night before the MCAS test in English Composition. 

What I’ll remember most about the MCAS Rally wasn’t how our team revised drafts of the script or how we practiced our routine over and over until it was perfect. What I’ll remember is how all of the kids were singing along to the MCAS song that my teammates Paul Willis and Jose Espinal rewrote to the tune of “Empire State of Mind,” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The lyrics to the chorus go like this: 

Ready for MCAS
Don’t you know that you inspire me
To be the best you can be
Ready for MCAS
Even though these tests are graded
You’re still the greatest
Ready for MCAS, MCAS, MCAS…

For a moment, every single one of us on the CSX Team felt like rock stars on stage! 

For the skit portion of the MCAS Rally, members of the CSX Team model the importance of making an outline before beginning to write.

CSX Hennigan Team Hosts “Coffee with my Teacher” Event

Last Wednesday, from 8:30-9:00am, before the school day began, teachers and faculty at Hennigan Elementary had a chance to mingle and grab a bite to eat at the “Coffee with my Teacher” breakfast hosted by City Year Boston’s CSX team. Though the event was a little more casual than the Teacher Appreciation Breakfast in December, it offered a rare opportunity for the Hennigan staff, City Year Boston corps members, and a few City Year Boston staff members to meet one another. Attendees enjoyed fruit, doughnuts, muffins, monkey bread, and coffee and a good time was had by all! (The proof is in the photos.)

City Year Boston Corps Member Starts ESL Class for Adults

Sarah Harrington teaches a lesson to her morning ESL class.

As if working in a fourth grade classroom, helping run an after-school program, and serving as a team leader for the City Heroes program didn’t keep her busy enough, Sarah Harrington, of the CSX Hennigan Team in City Year Boston, decided to take on an extra project: teaching an English as a Second Language class for adults.

Sarah thought of starting an ESL class when she found out about City Year Boston’s Innovation Award. The Innovation Award is a grant of up to $1000, which corps members can use to plan a project to benefit Boston communities. Corps members can use their funding to host an event or start a program that falls outside of their regular service. But first they must submit a proposal with an estimated budget and go through an interview process.

Needless to say, the City Year Boston staff and the school where Sarah works were impressed with her idea to teach an English class to adults and she received the award.

Sarah’s free ESL class for beginners meets before school from 8:30-9:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Her students are the parents of the elementary school students that she and her teammates work with.

“I teach a lot of the same concepts [to my ESL students] that their children are learning in school,” Sarah says.

The content of her lessons include grammar, verb conjugation, and vocabulary building. Though the class only began meeting a few weeks ago, Sarah can tell that her students are learning a lot and are appreciative of her efforts.

Sarah, who joined City Year Boston after graduating from Hamilton College in 2008 and teaching ESL classes in Ecuador for a year, plans to pursue teaching as a career. She has applied to graduate programs and teaching residencies, but her teaching career already is off to a great start.

Civil Rights Lawyer Speaks to City Year Boston Corps

City Year Boston corps members are fortunate that so many community leaders speak to us on our Friday Leadership Development Days (LDD’s). But we felt especially privileged this past Friday March 12th when Richard Cohen, president of Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and father of one of our very own CYB corps members, Sam Cohen, gave a truly inspiring speech about the connection between civil rights and the national service movement.

Cohen informed us that even though the U.S. population is more diverse than ever before and the country recently elected its first African American president, in the last decade the number of hate groups in America has increased by 50%. The SPLC has sued organizations that support hate activity, rather than the individual perpetrators, in order to diminish the organizations’ resources and put them out of commission. However, there are still many neo-Nazis, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and black and white hate groups.

You may ask how City Year and how everyone can help fight intolerance. Didn’t the Civil Rights Movement begin with Brown vs. the Board of Education and end with Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination? The answer is that we, at City Year, don’t just tutor children or lead service community beautification projects; we teach people, especially young people, to accept and love everyone, to celebrate rather than fear our differences. And the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s dream are alive in corps members and in all civically engaged citizens.

This blog entry does not do Cohen’s lecture justice. It was shocking, enlightening, and moving, but with a message of hope: with knowledge comes responsibility. So we, City Year corps members, just like Cohen, will live our lives where our values are.

Hands-On Activities at City Year for Kids

I pose with three of my campers wearing their Mardi Gras masks.

This past week, February 15-19, I was a team leader for fourth and fifth grade students at the Ohrenberger School site for City Year for Kids (CYFK), City Year’s week-long winter vacation program. The CYFK curriculum included teambuilding, active games, science, performing arts, and arts & crafts, but, to be honest, I wish I could have taken part in the planned activities rather than only being a “helper.”

My co-team leader Michael and I did have the opportunity to participate in some of the activities with our kids. I especially enjoyed playing “Push Catch” and “Zen Counting,” completing a Latin American puzzle, and learning new dances from around the world, as well as the basics of yoga.

However, I was more than a little jealous when the students made play-dough in science, Mardi Gras masks in arts & crafts, play scripts in performing arts, and the list goes on. I wanted to join in, instead of just adding food coloring to their play-dough, cutting out holes for the eyes on the masks, and giving suggestions for plot twists.

Maybe during our CYFK camp in the April I’ll be able to create my own projects to take home, but if not, I’ll just have to live vicariously through my kids. Again.

Four of my campers and I make play-dough during a CYFK science lesson.