South End News
March 30, 2011
Through a New Lens: Blackstone City Year volunteer finds hope in community partnerships
City Year, an organization committed to transforming schools and communities, has had 13 of its young volunteers, called corp. members, installed at the Blackstone Elementary School since fall 2010. Paired with students and teachers, these volunteers are helping to turn around the school by providing tutoring, mentorship, after school activities and accountability. One of the thirteen volunteers, Antonio Gutierrez grew up in the South End in Villa Victoria. This is Gutierrez’ third installment in the series about his time at the Blackstone.
contributed to the South End News by corps member Antonio Gutierrez
Working at the Blackstone Elementary School (380 Shawmut Ave.) with City Year has been invigorating and has given me a chance to see my community through a new lens. Although in recent years the South End has been known mainly for its commercial developments, select restaurants and new condominiums, this year has helped me recognize the extent of services available for children, and the momentum of activism, in this Boston community.
This year, the Blackstone School’s theme of Ubuntu (an African proverb that means "I am what I am because of who we all are") ultimately proposes that everyone is part of a greater whole. This idea has cultivated a sense of interconnectedness among the Blackstone’s students, tying together the successes and failures of every individual. I have seen this theme not only within the school walls of the Blackstone, but I have also realized that it permeates the surrounding community.
One way the concept of Ubuntu has spread within the entire school community is through the school’s family events. The faculty and staff at the Blackstone strongly believe that families and parents are as integral to the school community as the students. In order to encourage good learning behavior and routines at home, parents must be aware of what students are learning in school, and set goals with teachers. To establish a connection between the school and families, the Blackstone hosts parenting workshops, English lessons, family movie nights and roundtable discussions.
The spirit of Ubuntu, though less overt than within the school, is widespread throughout the entire South End. There has always been a strong sense of activism in Villa Victoria and the South End, and today, there are a plethora of youth programs and organizations dispersed throughout the community. The United South End Settlements, the South End Baseball League and the Harriet Tubman House offered me a safe learning environment when I was growing up, and also taught me essential principles about teamwork and caring for others. Now I see that the youth organizations of the South End and Greater Boston are woven into the Blackstone community as well.
At the Blackstone, a variety of resources are available for students through the Boston Ballet, Community Gardens, Parks Remodeled, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Power Lunch and Generations Incorporated. This collective support from community organizations is vital to the overall functioning of the school, and enhances the quality of the learning experience for students at the Blackstone. For instance, students can now enjoy reading in a newly restored library as the result of donations and countless volunteers from Saint Stephen’s Church and other organizations. The energy and compassion that is brought to the school through these collaborative partnerships is astronomical, and is a reflection of the ever-growing sense of pride in and commitment to the South End from within the community.
The successes the Blackstone has seen this school year are successes of the South End. I feel it is imperative that local organizations in the community continue to work together and stay involved because I believe, as the common saying goes, take a whole village to raise a child. If we are to ensure the success of the students at this particular school, and the success of the wider student body of Boston, communities must maintain this connection - the spirit of Ubuntu - and investment within themselves.