(IAP ’14) Michael Castagnola, G

Michael Castagnola (G, Urban Studies and Planning) Michael worked with Higg-Lew Leaders, an after school program in Roxbury, Boston that he co-founded with two Northeastern Law students. During IAP, he recruited, hired, and trained two high-performing high school students to tutor the middle school student participants and to run a community newspaper. The first edition of the newspaper was completed, printed, and delivered the last week in January. He also helped develop curriculum for the program and led staff training. Finally, he organized a music-based fundraiser that will take place at the Middle East on March 18th.  Check out the Higg-Lew Leaders’ Facebook Page: facebook.com/higgLewLeaders

6/30/14 – Farewell til Fall

We had a good conversation this week with CitySprouts, an organization interested in connecting existing school curriculum to gardening. Pending the outcome of their grant application, we are excited to work with them beginning in the fall. This collaboration presents an exciting opportunity for students to apply math and science concepts in a hands-on way as they grow nutritious food they can enjoy in weekly cooking class. CitySprouts even has an off-season plan that involves indoor activities like seed germination, worm bins, and soil quality. Yum!

This week, Shawn and Lasaunna finished the career series yearbook and began preliminary college research. We enjoyed end of year conversations with each of them and were impressed by the quality of their feedback for how they want to lead and shape the program moving forward.

Shawn looks forward to beginning his summer job with State Street Bank after the July 4th holiday, and will also be taking an advanced calculus course every morning at Northeastern. Ambitious man! Lasaunna is participating in Boston’s celebrated Private Industry Council program. The program matches high-achieving high school students with area businesses for paid summer internships. Lasaunna’s top choices were law firms or youth work, and she’ll learn her placement on Monday. Both fellows have promised to email us all summer long as they think of field trip destinations and ideas to improve next year’s program. Please do the same!































6/23/14 – Looking to the Future

We were privileged to attend this week’s eighth grade graduation, and wish many of our alumni well in all of their future endeavors. We will invite them back next year to share their experiences with the new eighth graders as they navigate the high school application process.

We’re so proud of the independence and integrity Shawn and Lasaunna have demonstrated this month working on their own. This week, they produced a career series yearbook to commemorate our diverse array of visitors and the equally varied professional aspirations they elicited from students. In their final week of work before the summer break, they will do some preliminary college research and calendaring prior to our in-person closing conversations on Thursday.

In that same spirit of independence, we’re working to diversify the program’s funding streams and are also compiling the materials necessary for reporting requirements approaching at the end of the fiscal year. We’re already putting together another music fundraiser too, so add a September 30th show to your calendar of exciting upcoming events.

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6/16/14 – Cooking up Curriculum

Shawn and Lasaunna finished compiling enrichment curriculum this week, with nearly all 33 weeks’ worth of art and cooking lessons neatly assembled in one place on Google drive. We have partnered with the Family Law and Juvenile Justice Society at Northeastern Law in hopes of establishing a sustainable pipeline of enrichment and art instructors rather than relying on personal relationships. Similarly, we’re excited to be in preliminary conversations with local organization City Sprouts about the possibility of a gardening class next year.

It was also our distinct pleasure to attend a DreamBuilders Youth Project event on Friday night at the Jeremiah Burke High School, where Shawn and Lasaunna are both students. Career Series alum Justin Springer coordinated the event as a tribute to Dorchester native, Burke graduate, and disco queen Donna Summers. Students danced, recited poetry, and remembered Maya Angelou; they were followed by singer Rainere Martin performing Summers favorites. The entire event reminded students to dream, to set goals, and to expect big things of themselves.

We look forward to seeing the career series yearbook Shawn and Lasaunna produce next week.

































6/9/14 – The Power of the Arts

This week, Shawn and Lasaunna managed door to door delivery of the June Porchlight newspaper to local residences, businesses, and homerooms at the two schools. They also accompanied 8th grader Davis to a job orientation at Artists for Humanity in South Boston, helping him navigate public transportation and fill out all of the necessary paperwork. In what was a busy week, they also began developing next year’s enrichment curriculum. Shawn is compiling lesson plans for art class, while Lasaunna is doing the same for cooking. Closer in age to the students, the high school fellows are finding great lessons our middle schoolers will love.

Staff was also delighted to attend a performance of the school play this Friday. Our very own 8th grader Mohamed played the male lead, with Devante, Juliana, and Jeremy in supporting roles. The students had been rehearsing diligently with theater teacher Mr. Wise since January, and their efforts paid off. The house was packed, which just goes to show parent turnout needn’t be an obstacle when we offer opportunities to celebrate their children’s talent. The production was impressively professional, with singing, careful choreography, and effective comedic timing. Best of all, the play was thematically brave. It was all about the power of reading in a world full of distractions. We are, as ever, very proud of our students.




































6/2/14 – Reflecting on this year and planning for the next

Staff members met this week with Shawn and Lasaunna to check in and to calendar June tasks. After delivering the final edition of the newspaper in the Dudley Square area this week, they will be responsible for developing next year’s art and cooking curriculum. They will then produce a career series yearbook including photos and blurbs of each visitor as well as a section devoted to the students’ professional aspirations. Finally, our high school fellows will create a calendar for their college application process. This will entail research on appropriate reach, match, and safety schools based on their most recent SAT scores, and identifying relevant deadlines, available financial aid, and common application eligibility.

Additionally, Shawn and Lasaunna each wrote an essay reflecting on their growth and lessons from participation in the program this year. We’re excited to implement some of their excellent ideas! Shawn noted that interviewing businesses for the newspaper improved his social skills and helped him to focus on the most important takeaways from conversations. He suggested that next year, we allow for more extended cooking lessons, and offer each high school fellow a day where they lead the entire program.

Writing that the students came to feel like family to her, Lasaunna said the fellowship was “not just a job.” The experience helped to develop her responsibility, as she learned to manage deadlines for the newspaper and to set a positive example for students who depended on her guidance. Like Shawn, she also found newspaper interactions helpful in overcoming shyness and cultivating leadership. Our program was much stronger for Shawn and Lasaunna’s presence this year, and we look forward to the work they will produce in June.











5/26/14 – Branching Out on Their Own!

This week, Shawn and Lasaunna completed production of the June edition of the Porchlight newspaper independently. As a staff, we established and tweaked the necessary support and communication structures to make the remote work arrangement feasible. Each day, Shawn and Lasaunna called an individual staff member to debrief their daily tasks, and then sent an email update to the entire team. They saved their completed work online (thank you, Google), allowing everyone to stay in the loop about progress and any remaining gaps where collaboration would be needed. On Monday, they also attended an author reading as this month’s community event for the newspaper. It’s always gratifying to see professional development come to fruition, and Lasaunna especially impressed as she stepped up to the plate this week.

After the holiday next week, our fellows will draft end of year reflection essays before meeting with staff in person to plan June tasks and discuss the upcoming year.

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5/19/14 – Bittersweet Last Week

We welcomed this week’s warm weather and enjoyed our final lesson outside, using chalk to create pictures with background, foreground, and middle ground. The students also worked hard to finish their career series profiles, which Shawn and Lasaunna will be assembling into a yearbook capturing all of the year’s talented guests. We finalized details on summer programs, with students employed at Teen Empowerment; exploring internships at the Museum of Science and Artists for Humanity; attending traditional outdoor camps with sailing, swimming, and character components; enrolling in extended academic orientation for the rigorous New Mission High School; and building talent in dance and singing programs. (See Mike and Davis checking out summer offerings online below.) We know there is a phenomenal summer in store for our Higg-Lew Leaders.

This week also saw the year’s final field trip, at McGolf in Dedham. Stopping to smell the lilacs blooming along the course, students enjoyed the precision of the game and wowed each other with an impressive number of hole-in-ones. After 18 holes, we were all ready for a scrumptious meal and ice cream, shared after completing end of year reflection surveys. Participants most commonly ranked “relationships with adults” as their top reason for attending the program, but also cited enthusiasm for chess, basketball, homework support, and each other.

Look for updates in the next few weeks as Shawn and Lasaunna work to complete production of the June Porchlight newspaper on their own, before moving into preparations for college applications and curricular planning for next year.










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5/12/14 – We Stay Busy: Pen Pals, Newspaper Delivery, Summer Camp!

Having finished the Language Arts portion of the MCAS in March, students tackled the first week of the Math section this week. Though this largely meant they had no assigned homework, students were delighted to hear back from their pen pals in Miami, and excitedly composed another round of letters back. They included friendship bracelets in the package and can’t wait for a response. We also enjoyed discussions centered on the New York Times Fixes blog, which evaluates innovative solutions to social problems. This week’s topics included teacher training programs and young women’s social media efforts to fight misogyny in our high school athletic teams.

In art this week, Ms. Helen led a lesson in multimedia card creation for Mother’s Day, and many of the results were truly touching. One student drew an elaborate superhero and a collage of owls to represent his mother’s wisdom. Awww. At the students’ suggestion, cooking class consisted of breakfast for dinner this week. The kids made fruit pancakes from scratch and are looking forward to running their own pot luck for the final class next week. We’ve received confirmation paperwork for summer camps and music programs (two excited future campers fill out paperwork below), and are hoping to find jobs for a few of our older students.

Though next week is our last official week with students, we’re looking forward to a busy June with our high school fellows Shawn and Lasaunna. Not only will they finish the final edition of the Porchlight newspaper independently, but they will also be supporting next year’s curriculum design, producing end of year publications, and drafting a detailed calendar for their college application process.














































5/5/14 – Happy May!

The art unit on the color wheel culminated in creating tissue paper pinwheels for Mother’s Day. This activity combined origami with everything the students have learned about color sense to create simple gifts on which the students could write kind messages to their mothers for the big day next weekend. Similarly comforting and more delicious was the chicken noodle soup they prepared from scratch in Tuesday’s cooking class. Yum! On Wednesday, our students excelled in the student-staff volleyball matchup, but ultimately fell to the teachers 2-1.

The week ended with an exciting visit from New York-based Hot Music Producer founder Cory Lee. Cory recently returned from several months in Kenya, where he was producing a television pilot featuring local musicians. Describing his trajectory to students, Cory impressed upon them the extent to which he used books to teach himself marketable skills like website construction and video editing.

We submitted the May issue of the Porchlight for printing this week, and truly believe it is our strongest issue yet. Look for it in the Dudley Square area next week! Not only are they now expert Tabbo players (pictured below), but Shawn and Lasaunna are also well positioned to produce the June issue largely independently. Once middle school programming wraps up for the year, our high school fellows will begin developing next year’s enrichment curriculum and plot out their map for college application success.




































4/28/14 – Spring Break…for some

While the students enjoyed April vacation (hence no photos this week), we prepared for the final few weeks of programming and for the coming year. This involved developing a final set of lesson plans, done in concert with our fantastic City Year corps members. The year’s last unit, launched a few weeks ago, adapts content from the New York Times “Fixes” blog. As the name suggests, the blog evaluates solutions to social problems. These lessons have generated rich discussion about creative thinking, and continue to provide important practice reading and interpreting high-level text.

We also compiled materials to apply for another round of funding for next year, including producing a more informal end of year report. It was gratifying to review a year’s worth of photographs and to see how far many of our students have come. In analyzing the year-end attitudinal survey data, we found that program participants felt more positively than non-participating peers on many indices, including, “I feel good about my community,” “I enjoy school,” and “I believe it is important to use my summer productively.” We feel good about supporting their efforts to do just that.

We’re excited to welcome Cory Lee to this week’s Career Series. Cory founded the music producer competition that inspired this year’s fundraiser, and is coming from New York City just to visit Higg-Lew Leaders.

4/21/14 – Creativity in Bloom

We began the week by meeting with after-school partners to discuss end of year celebrations and planning structures for next year. Recognizing that we’re all busy people who rarely have the time all to meet in person, we still want to prioritize improved communication across programs for next year. Our staff has effectively used a simple daily team update email to keep everyone on the same page throughout the year, so the plan is to adopt a weekly interteam version for next year.

Though Ms. Helen wasn’t able to make it in for art this week, we happily improvised in the making of “Equinox eggs.” This involved first emptying the eggs of their contents so students could keep the results indefinitely, then decorating and dyeing the shells. It provided both an opportunity to discuss diversity (No, not everyone celebrates Easter. Why not? Because not everyone is Christian. Etc) and to control for some variables in a semi-scientific experiment comparing color level by solvent – water, water and vinegar, just vinegar, and color tablets versus liquid food coloring. The products were pretty indeed.

In cooking, students made vegetable frittatas with Ms. Dana that were delicious by all accounts. The next edition of the newspaper is also really coming along, featuring a business interview with a popular local barber shop, and Lasaunna’s account of her Costa Rican adventure as this month’s field trip. The paper will also cover musician Ali McGuirk’s encore Career Series visit. Ali returned this week with standup bassist Chris Sartori of the Corner Funk Allstars to lead a songwriting workshop. The kids learned to distinguish between major and minor chords and discussed themes and imagery, with lucky Davis getting to hear his original piece put to music and performed!

Students are on spring break this week, but we’ll be hard at work compiling funding applications, planning field trips, and strategizing next steps for students’ summer program placements.








































4/14/14 – Leaders are Explorers

In art this week, students continued their investigation of the color wheel with ongoing ingenious lessons by Ms. Helen. Noting the inanity of names for wall paint and makeup colors, Ms. Helen invited the students to invent and name their own colors. After they mixed them up on their own perfect palette, students applied these colors to outlines of rooms or faces, becoming impromptu interior decorators and makeup artists. The next day in cooking, students enjoyed being reunited with Ms. Dana, recently returned from an extended trip to Uganda with the John Snow, Inc. public health research organization. The group prepared a spicy batch of (nutritious, delicious, and cheap) chili as they heard stories of Ms. Dana’s travels. Wild card Wednesday encouraged excellent team communication via Taboo. Thursday’s open house precluded a Career Series this week, but gave students a chance to show off their achievements and prioritize fixes before the quarter’s end.

It’s hard to believe that May is just around the corner, and that our next field trip will be the last one for this year. We’re busily planning an excursion befitting such a joyful year with Higg-Lew Leaders, and just hope the weather cooperates. Because few students have done any hiking, we’ll be climbing a local mountain, having a picnic (perhaps after making our own trail mix in cooking class!) and doing some end of year reflection at the summit. We’ll close out the day with a rousing round of mini-golf, since a little competition is always healthy. Students began qualifying for this final trip this week.

We were thrilled to send Lasaunna off to Costa Rica armed with a well-traveled backpack, camera, and our best wishes. Stay tuned for news of her adventure.












































4/7/14 – Enriched indeed.

What a delight it was to distribute this month’s edition of the Porchlight newspaper in spring temperatures rather than in biting cold or spitting snow. Editor Marie-Ange and her team of high school fellows brought their positive message door to door to hundreds of nearby homes and businesses, concentrating their efforts on the Dudley Square commercial area.

In art, students thoroughly enjoyed getting to eat their work. Without art instruction during the day, the students had trouble identifying primary colors and none knew what secondary or tertiary colors were. The ever-creative Ms. Helen responded by designing a color wheel lesson in which students mixed food coloring with vanilla frosting, spread them on small cookies, and ate the result. Purple never tasted so educationally delicious. Always delicious, Dara’s class this week was bittersweet because it was her last, at least for a while. Accordingly, she indulged students’ decadent sides as they prepared bacon-wrapped sausages. Students were also really touched by the cookbooks she prepared for them to take home. The cookbooks not only included the recipes the class had prepared together, but also each student’s favorite recipe to prepare at home, along with quotes from each participant about what they had learned and most enjoyed.

To ease the blow of her departure somewhat, we introduced new fun and games this week. Taboo brought many, many laughs. Having learned at camp in recent summers, a couple of our students had requested that we order chess. They have since taught City Year corps member Ryan to play, and the challenging game is becoming a team favorite.

We closed out the week with an excellent Career Series hosted by Paradigm Properties property manager Nagib Charles. A graduate of The George Washington University, Nagib grew up a few blocks from the Higginson-Lewis. His job had never occurred to most students, who were especially curious about its financial particulars. Having guessed Nagib’s salary, they then did a scavenger hunt of sorts with line items in his multi-million dollar operating budget. Nagib’s visit reminded us of the importance of integrating more practical accounting into what we do at Higg-Lew.















































3/31/14 – Dreamers and Doers

Another excellent week at Higg-Lew, with especially exciting developments afoot for our high school fellows Shawn and Lasaunna. Lasaunna learned that she had been selected for a two-week trip to Costa Rica with other high-achieving students at the Burke High School. Having moved here just a few short months ago from St. Kitts, she has really taken impressive advantage of every possible opportunity. Similarly, Shawn was able this past weekend to travel to Nashville for the 40th annual conference of the National Society of Black Engineers. He attended various workshops on entrepreneurship, met Boeing executives, and took in a B.O.B. concert. Not surprisingly, he’s already looking forward to next year’s conference to be held in Anaheim, California.

Our students stayed busy, too. In art on Monday, they learned about more of the context behind Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream in order to create their own visual representations of the feeling of fear. Miss Helen showed them how to layer oil pastels on top of each other to blend some of the bright, bold colors many of us associate with intense emotions like fear. In cooking, students prepared delicious strawberry shortcakes and begged Ms. Dara not to leave! The spring catering season is simply too busy to permit her to continue, but everyone is looking forward to hearing Ms. Dana’s stories about her time in Uganda once she resumes teaching class next week.

Our Career Series visitor this week was music industry talent Justin Springer. Having worked with big names like Eve and John Legend, Justin is now devoting his energies closer to home at the Burke High School. There, he is leading the Dream Builders project – a program inspired by Burke alum Donna Summers to support students’ professional and artistic goals. Reminding students that “Greatness is doing the small things well,” Justin led a workshop in which students identified short-term and long-term goals and the greatness within them that would facilitate the achievement of those goals. Because the support of others is so important along the way, classmates presented their peers’ goals. We were excited to spread the word of Justin’s good work in this month’s edition of the Porchlight newspaper – and check out this great coverage in the Globe as well: http://www.boston.com/…/Zegj8I3nvlWThbwsK3O9jJ/story.html.



































3/24/14 – What do Beat Producers, Chicken Shawarma, and Air Hockey Have in Common?

The first week of spring was a short one at Higg-Lew due to Suffolk County’s strange Evacuation Day holiday on Monday, but it was nonetheless packed with activity. Because the students were taking the reading portion of the MCAS state test during the day, they had little homework and were eager both for the fun and structure of the after-school program. On Tuesday, the students made healthy turkey wraps with Ms. Dara. Having noisily protested having to taste avocado, most students soon saw the error of their ways and eagerly requested second helpings. The power of discovery!

Tuesday night saw a very successful fundraiser for Higg-Lew Leaders at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge. The show was a beat producer competition featuring an impressive lineup of twelve talented up and coming producers I tracked down through social media and networking at local events.Though industry judges and crowd enthusiasm crowned producer Hifadility the winner, everybody won: the venue was packed, Boston supported its music scene, and the Higg-Lew Leaders raised some money to fund student summer programs. Check out great coverage anticipating the event in The Dig here: http://digboston.com/boston-music-concerts/2014/03/the-producers-mapping-the-influences-of-bostons-up-and-coming-beatmakers/

Since the Middle East was so good to us, we returned as part of our field trip this weekend. Always encouraging participants to try new things, we made the restaurant’s full enticing lunch menu available – except for its standard cheeseburger fare. As with the above-described avocado, early skeptics were converted upon first bites of chicken shawarma, lamb kebob, and falafel. Yum! As an added brain bonus, students learned the game Set while we waited for our food to arrive. Then it was just a few stops on the red line to Lanes and Games, where students, parents, and volunteers battled in epic air hockey matches, played some classic arcade games, and were lucky enough to bowl a few strikes. The kids are already scheming the next trip….

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3/17/14 – “Am I Detained?”

This week saw increased attendance, including new students and volunteers. Not surprisingly, the curried shrimp prepared in Tuesday night’s cooking class was a big hit with veterans and newcomers alike. Students were also excited about their new pen pals from Miami, and have begun drafting introductory letters to their Floridian friends. They have many questions about the weather, the food, and the language, and are beginning to agitate for a trip South.

Progress reports came out this week, and we were gratified to see a marked improvement among many of our regular participants. Not only did many grades go up, but students were able to identify priorities for the remainder of the quarter.

We were also lucky enough to host a very informative street law clinic on Friday afternoon. In partnership with the National Lawyers’ Guild, public defender Carl Williams (pictured below) spoke with the students about their rights. Focusing on the first and fourth amendments, Williams offered practical advice about how students should interact with the police when stopped. The students had the opportunity to share stories about interacting with the police in the community, reviewed the standard of reasonable suspicion, and left armed with the all-important question, “Am I detained?”



























































3/10/14 – The Power of Song

Although students were disappointed that their beloved cooking teacher was out sick this week, they enjoyed the opportunity to research their own recipes. Ms. Dara left instructions for each student to select a nutritious, healthy option that would be within the budget, and write out steps easy for their classmates to follow. These recipes are now the bank of options for the rest of the year, and students are really looking forward to the debut of curried shrimp this week.

We needed to modify the planned field trip a bit after learning that available rock climbing facilities either lacked safety equipment or were prohibitively expensive. Instead, we’ll take the group of qualifiers to the MIT museum and for an introduction to Middle Eastern cuisine. As the weather warms, we look forward to more outdoor activities and hope to do a kayaking cleanup trip along the Charles.

The week’s career series was a highlight as we hosted talented local musician Ali McGuirk. Ali led the students in mini songwriting workshops. She exuded such confidence performing that her positive example inspired the students to sing for each other as well. You can check out Ali’s music at www.SoundCloud.com/AliSingsSongs.













3/3/14 – Busy Bees

Another cheerful week with the Higg-Lew Leaders saw two new students joining our roster of regulars. Art teacher Helen helped students think outside the box as they used coloring book pages to tell unexpected stories. In cooking, Ms. Dara brought us a little bit of the tropics as we forgot winter temperatures by making smoothies – nutritious and delicious!

We ended the week on a high note with an excellent career series. We again offered pizza and invited families, which we hope to do on an ongoing basis for the rest of the year. Students rotated through three stations: at one, Gabby led a black history lesson; next, students used laptops to explore summer program options; and finally Mr. Royale L’Radin (pictured below) led the students in a spoken word poetry workshop. It was especially gratifying to see kids excited about a broad spectrum of productive summer prospects, from traditional outdoor camps to programs emphasizing music, engineering, and photography. They chattered together and with parents about top choices, and we look forward to doing what we can to make those happen in a few short months.Mr. Royale L’Radin met with

See below for the March edition of the Porchlight paper to be distributed door to door and at Dudley Square businesses this week. Marie-Ange and the high school fellows are already hard at work on the April issue.


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2/24/14 – Cranking Through Student Vacation Week

The March edition of the Porchlight newspaper is ready to submit for printing today, after much activity during school vacation week. This edition features student cover art from the Burke High School and celebrates what students learned as part of Black History Month.

The Northeastern students are on spring break this week. This past quarter, we generally achieved pretty close to a 1:1 mentor to student ratio, and found this hugely beneficial in getting students the attention and focus they need. To that end, we’ve made a big recruiting push to see if we can get as many volunteers on this new rotation. Because of the success of the NEBLSA career series event, we’re also adjusting the format of future career series to offer food, invite families, and coordinate multiple speakers so that students can rotate among them more conversationally.

Our high school fellows will be jumping into the Princeton Review’s book of best colleges today, as they situate their own practice SAT scores within the broader landscape of what schools are looking for. This way they can think strategically about how best to attract scholarship funds as they apply in the coming year. We’re also excited to announce the next field trip, offering indoor rock-climbing, a ropes course, and plenty of team-building activities.

2/17/14 – Tests, Fun, and Games

This week, the students had Anet benchmark testing in math and reading. These tests provide teachers and school leaders with important information about student progress, but cause something of an after-school program conundrum. Testing means not only that students do not have homework in core subject areas, but also that they are required to be silent for much of the day and bring the residual restlessness to us. We responded by hosting Scrabble and Boggle tournaments, sneakily requiring math and vocab skills of students as they calculated scores. We also set up research stations where the students used laptops to learn about black history figures so they can report their findings in next month’s Porchlight newspaper.

The New England Black Law Student Association sponsored this week’s career series, featuring graduate students of color from multiple programs of study. We offered pizza and invited parents to join us as the Higg-Lew students interviewed law, business, education, and medical students. It was really positive for the students to grow their circle of role models in this way, because we’ve always seen that exposure is essential to inspiration. We fully expect to hear students start saying that they want to be anesthesiologists now that they’ve learned from Harvard Medical School student Evelyn what that means (and how it’s spelled!) This provided an especially good networking opportunity for high school students Shawn and Lasaunna, who also registered for MIT’s SAT Prep class this Sunday. They were quite impressed with the pillars of 77 Mass Ave upon disembarking from the 1 bus, and took an official full-length practice test with about 300 peers in Building 26. Once we get their scores back, we look forward to researching the average scores at their safety, target, and reach colleges for goal-setting.

No students next week because of February break, but we’ll be hard at work on newspaper production and other planning.


























2/10/14 – Higg-Lew Leaders as Journalists, Chefs, and Scientists!

This week, the newspaper team delivered the Porchlight door to door in concentric circles around the school, and left additional copies in Dudley Square locations where all of last week’s drop-offs had already been taken. Because of February school vacation, the challenge with this month’s Porchlight newspaper will be to get it produced in less time and with a major interruption in the middle. Marie-Ange, Shawn, and Lasaunna are rising to this challenge: they have scheduled their interview with a Dudley Square physical therapy business, lined up students of the month at both the Burke and the Higginson-Lewis, drafted Career Series profiles, and are seeking spring-themed cover art from students.

Students love their new cooking teacher, 3Ds Catering owner Ms. Dara Frederick. Dara is not only a talented culinary professional, but also the mother of a middle schooler herself, so she relates well to our group of 7th and 8th graders. Her first week of class was also when we finally introduced some hot plates so the kids could really get cooking. Though they balked at first, every participant ended up devouring grilled cheese sandwiches featuring spinach, tomato, and black beans. Yum!

Saturday’s trip to the Science Museum was awesome. The IMAX on the South Pacific made us all want to visit some coral reefs. Students checked out the classic Rube Goldberg machine, explored a giant interactive map of the Boston area, and used magnets to test the iron content of cereal flakes. Although a few students were disappointed not to have qualified for this month’s trip to the Science Museum, our hope is that they’ll be motivated to keep their attendance (must be at least 75%) and behavior (at least 3 points out of a daily possible 4) up so they’re eligible for the next trip. Ryan is planning an exciting one indeed. It may or may not involve some rock-climbing.



































2/3 –  The Porchlight is Published! 

The oft-rescheduled student-staff basketball game finally happened this week. Our loyalties were torn as we cheered Ryan on the staff team but many a Higg-Lew Leader on the student side. The entire contest stayed so remarkably close that observers had to wonder whether teachers – including several seasoned players well over 6 feet – were throwing the game to keep things interesting. When the students ultimately prevailed, this was clearly not the case.

The same day, we were thrilled to get our hands on the first edition of our Porchlight newspaper. Highlighting student achievements, local business, and career series visitors, the paper represents the high school fellows’ hard work throughout IAP. Our middle schoolers are clamoring to see their names in print, and we’re excited to be able to work with their teachers to publish top student work. The fellows distributed the paper throughout their high school and at major businesses throughout Dudley Square, and will deliver it door to door around Higginson-Lewis this week.

We closed out the week with a career series visit from supporters and anti-bullying crusaders Nobul Apparel. After hearing what students had learned about bullying from their December discussions, co-founder Bessie Bianco challenged them to a creative contest. Students wrote or drew about their experience with bullying, and a lucky winner in each category won a much-coveted snapback hat. Between the Nobul hats and their Higg-Lew shirts, the kids will be sporting some meaningful messages at next week’s trip to the Science Museum!





























1/27/14 – When School Gets Canceled, Improvise 

This week was a strange one, because we never did manage to meet in person. Monday was the MLK holiday; Tuesday and Wednesday were canceled due to the snow; and on Thursday, key staff were out sick or at City Year’s annual summit. That we were never physically in the same place, however, is not to say that we weren’t quite productive.

Our wonderful cooking teacher is off to Uganda for a six-week work trip, so we needed to find someone willing to step in during her absence. Fortunately, a Dorchester-based chef has agreed to help out for the next few weeks.

Having analyzed students’ initial summer program preferences, we have tagged all of the programs by category (arts, sports, civics, etc.) for their perusal during this week’s strategic planning session. At that point, the students will conduct an electronic scavenger hunt using the laptops to learn more about the summer opportunities that would suit them best. We’re also planning a dinner for parents in just a few short weeks to share some of the same information with them, and to learn more from families about summer priorities for their kids. The dinner will also present a great opportunity for the students to showcase their work. To that end, we’ve also tracked all of the students’ most recent progress report and benchmark test data so we can keep better tabs on their growth and focus areas.

Finally, we submitted the first edition of our Porchlight community newspaper for printing! It represents the hard work of our two high school fellows and Marie-Ange’s diligent management and follow-up. Everyone stepped up to pull the paper together remotely: one of our 8th graders wrote an article during the snow day; the high school fellows followed up with the cover artist from home; and we all pitched in to edit. We’re proud of the final product, which features principal’s messages and students of the month from both the Higginson-Lewis and the Burke High School, as well as reporting on a community meeting and a profile of a local business. We think the paper will be a powerful vehicle for communicating positive things about the youth and the neighborhood.

get the news















1/20/14 – A Busy Week Back!

It was great to have the kids back this week. Because they received progress reports on Monday, students were feeling added urgency about diligent completion of all homework assignments. We were also able to arrange one-on-one conferences with their science and social studies teachers so everyone is on the same page about what needs to get done. Students connected with high school fellows Shawn and Lasaunna right away, and engaged in spirited debate with them during this week’s readings on gender roles.

Students created their own thank you cards for holiday gifts during art class, and made strawberry jam from scratch in cooking. On Thursday they began exploring options for summer programs, and articulated interest in everything from traditional outdoor camps to engineering programs to ballet intensives. We are excited to help bring these pieces together.

This week’s career series hosted YouthDesign, a fantastic organization that places high school students in two paid summer internships at leading design firms. This visit was especially well-timed as the newspaper team solicits cover art in anticipation of submitting the product for printing next week. We also implemented new team communication structures to ensure no balls are dropped as we transition leadership and delegate responsibilities more evenly across the growing staff.

We embark on this new week honoring the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who reminds us that “Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”IMG_0820












































1/13/14 – Team Training

We accomplished so much as a team this week. Finding time for professional development is tough during the week when students are around, so we took this week without kids to offer additional training (especially for Shawn and Lasaunna) and make a recruitment push. As a team, we called every single parent in the seventh and eighth grades to make sure everyone knows we’re starting back up again today and that enrollment has re-opened to anyone interested. Parents and students alike were especially excited to hear that teachers will now be offering extra credit to regular program participants.

We planned the next field trip, to the science museum, and created lesson plans for the first few Thursday sessions exploring summer program offerings. We set the date for our winter parent event where we’ll showcase student work and share summer program information with parents. Another big development is a pen-pal relationship with a middle school classroom in Miami. This presents a great opportunity for the students to practice real-world writing, to learn about a different culture, and maybe to get invested in fundraising for a trip!

Friday’s Nobul event at Church was a great success – apparel company owners Frank and Bessie were doing brisk sales, and Higg-Lew co-founders Gabby and Sarah briefly took the stage to share information about the program. We look forward to learning the total donation later this week.

Shawn and Lasaunna took their practice SAT on Saturday morning at the Dudley library. Since we’re providing SAT prep, we need to set a baseline for where they’re starting so we can target lessons and measure growth. In between arduous math and reading sections, they enjoyed pumpkin and blueberry muffins from Haley House in anticipation of their interview with the restaurant’s owner next week.IMG_0793
















































1/6/14 Happy New Year – 1st Day Back

It’s been a pretty great week. I visited family in NY and pushed forward on planning for the start of the second half of the school year with Higg-Lew Leaders.

We developed a partnership with NoBul Apparel (http://www.nobulapparel.com/), a fashion company that campaigns against bullying. They are hosting an event this Friday at Church Boston and all proceeds are going to support Higg-Lew Leaders.

We cultivated relationships with three Boston based apparel brands: Laced, Mass-Apparel, and Scope Urban Apparel. These firms are helping to promote our March 18th fundraiser and will be giving our merchandise at the show.

We planned our professional development for the first week back. The team is meeting each day this week to discuss marketing, curriculum, and enrichment strategy. A parent event is in the works. It was also the first day of our high school fellows. Meet Lashaunna and Shawn. We went to get their discount t-passes from Downtown Crossing and started training on the newspaper. I’m excited to work with the team this week in preparation for kids on Monday, Jan 13th.


12/30 – Newspaper, Fundraiser, Lesson Plans

Happy Holidays. New Years is only a day a way and we are excited to start off 2014 running. Boston Public Schools class starts on January 6th and Higg-Lew Leaders will start again with students on January 13th. In the  mean time we are getting all of our ducks in a row. We are extremely excited about the start of our high school fellows. Their two major tasks will be to oversee a newspaper and to tutor the middle schoolers. This week, I designed the layout for the 4 page tabloid sized newspaper and established a training schedule to teach the high school fellows and Marie-Ange, City Year corps member, how to run the paper. Each month the students will report on education, community and business. They will conduct interviews of local leaders and report on local events. 500 copies of the paper will be distributed around the neighborhood, to parents and local businesses. The newspaper is a conduit to teach the students leadership skills, marketing, writing, and project management.

We have started to organize a fund raiser. As a small volunteer organization our expenses are low, but we still have bills to pay. We need supplies for cooking and art, money for field trips, T cards for the high school students and other miscellany. We will be hosting a music event at the Middle East Upstairs on Tuesday, March 18th. We plan to raise $1,000 from the event. In our experience connecting with the music community facilitates marketing. As we build the event we are coming into contact with many people who are able to spread the word about the program as well as provide support. This event is a music producer competition and so far we have secured donated prizes and judges. The initial stages of organization have also lead to contacts to support our Thursday career series at Higg-Lew Leaders. An instructor from Berklee, a founder of U-Turn Audio, a marketing associate from Karmaloop, and professional musician will be coming to speak to the kids over the next few weeks.

Finally, I have been working on lesson plans for our return. We push the students to open their minds and think about how the world around them works. During our first week back we will be discussing women in engineering and the sciences and the ways that society communicates its gendered expectations from a very young age. We will be discussing same sex schools. gendered toys, and workplace stereotypes. The information is sourced from newspaper articles used to bolster student literacy and critical thinking.




12/23 – Ice Skating and Interviews

We just wrapped up our last week of programming before winter break. The kids were excited for their vacation and we wanted to make sure they left on a cheerful note. We had our end of year field trip. So you know, students qualify for field trips by attending the program 75% of the days and earning an average of  3 out of 4 on their behavior. We took a group of students ice skating in Boston Common, and went for fancy pizza at Upper Crust on Charles Street in Beacon hill. Nobody had ever been ice skating and we are so proud of our students for strapping on skates and getting onto the ice. We always emphasize a willingness to take risks and try new things. Everybody had a great time. Then while waiting for our pizza we played a few games of apples to apples. The kids came up with funny word associations and then we chowed down on some delicious artisanal pizza.




We also interviewed high school students for our new high school fellowship. We met some amazing students and want to congratulate Lasaunna and Shawn from the Burke for earning their new jobs. We also want to give a big shout out to Mr. Innis, the guidance counselor at the Burke, for being unbelievably helpful and facilitating parent connections. The students’ first day of work will be January 6th.  These students will tutor and mentor the Higg-Lew Leaders. They will also oversee the production of a community newspaper and participate in SAT prep. We’re excited to cultivate youth leadership and demonstrate pathways of excellence for our middle schoolers. The chain of growth is being built -> middle school -> high school -> recent college grads from City Year. We are a team that believes in and supports each other.

Next week will be dedicated to preparation for our return to school!



12/16 – Big Prep Week

It’s been a busy week prepping. Excited that finals and papers have been submitted, it’s time to get to work at the Higginson-Lewis School in Roxbury. Just so everybody knows, I have been volunteering each week since September, so this IAP project is an expansion and continuation of the work we have already started. I’m excited to spend more time at the school and continue to build relationships with the students. We are entering the last week before winter break and it’s going to action packed.

For starters, I have been reaching out to local high schools. We are about two hire two high performing high school students to work as mentors with the middle school students. I spoke with the guidance counselors at The Jeremiah Burke, The Boston Latin Academy, and the The O’Bryant School. Each school would forward out our application information so that we could interview students the following week. We’re excited to interview and expand our team and impact on middle school students.

Working at the Higginson-Lewis has been great. When we started the program we were offered the support of two City Year Americorps members, Ryan and Marie-Ange. Over the course of the year we have been helping them grow as leaders. This week marked the first time where they are leading class room discussions. We spent time lesson planning and creating materials. They came up with catchy hooks to introduce bullying and led the students in deep thoughtful conversations. Below you can see Marie_Ange supporting art and Ryan supporting cooking.

We’re looking forward to the weeks ahead.

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