WIN: Weekly Information for Networks
News and Resources for the Out-of-School Time Field
April 29th, 2015
ASPIRE's Dream Team - How Staff Makes All the Difference
By Judy Harris
Mario Hines is one of four Community Educators who staff the ASPIRE therapeutic afterschool program at
the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. He explains that working
with ASPIRE is like coming full circle for him. As an African American youth growing up in inner city Detroit,
Mr. Hines struggled with many of the same hardships his students face. "Common ground is a great bridge."
"This work chose me," Mr. Hines says simply.
ASPIRE'S Community Educators come from backgrounds similar to those of their students and faced many
of the same challenges to learning when they were in middle school, including poverty, violence, racism,
and lack of opportunity. Overcoming the obstacles, all went on to earn college degrees, becoming models
of the success they hope their students will achieve.
They're the "Dream Team," ASPIRE Director Susan Lovett says of her staff. "They will not give up on a kid,
or lose confidence in that young person. There's a fine line between holding young people accountable
while also making it clear to them that you're on their side," Ms. Lovett says.
Noemi Martin's specialty is Expressive Arts. She's also studied Psychology, and has been a community
organizer since she was 15. Students in her Comic Book elective activityfocus intently on designing
characters, personalities, and story lines, and the comic books become more than caricatures, taking on
deep significance for their young creators.
The underlying goal of many of ASPIRE's enrichment activities is to empower students and boost their self-
esteem. Ms. Martin's Natural Arts elective helps students find new ways to appreciate their uniqueness.
For example, studentstouch natural objects such as seeds and grains and then pick out those that
complement their own skin tones. "We see a lot of beauty inspired by Expressive Arts," says Ms. Martin,
who is Puerto Rican, South Asian, and Jamaican.
Levy Monteiro grew up in Dorchester, the neighborhood where ASPIRE and the Frederick School are
located.With a degree and professional experience in Finance, he conducts Entrepreneurship enrichment
activities for his students, as well as Comedy Improv electives. "I see a lot of myself in all my students," Mr.
Monteiro, who is Cape Verdean, explains. "I like to show them how to turn challenges into power. If they
can laugh at some of their struggles, they can move on from them."
Danniela Cruz leads students in the Storytelling Through Hip Hop elective. This activity offers students an
"alternative language," she explains, that can help them "communicate with the world" and motivate them
to take action and try new things. As an Afro-Honduran woman, she finds her work as an ASPIRE
Community Educator very fulfilling. "I grew up like a lot of these kids, so I understand their stories: being
reluctant to learn, and facing a lot of challenges. I love to see how excited they get when they get that B or
an A. It's those kinds of moments that drive me to continue this work."
With a degree in Communications and strong people skills, Mr. Hines is a natural at running the enrichment
activity he created for ASPIRE students, "Who Am I: Brand Me." The class is a "self-reflective, introspective
course. It's about how you want people to think of you," he tells his students. It pushes you to look at yourself
and understand your goals. "It's your job to project how you want to be seen." He uses his training in
Communications to coach students in how to present themselves to others. "If you have a goal that you are
always working at, people around you can see it," Mr. Hines says. "When adults knew I had a goal, there
was always someone there to help me, always someone there to push me. And peers can help push, too."
ASPIRE students, in grades 6, 7, and 8, are at an age where they are open to the impact of positive
mentoring. "Children are receptive in a way that adults aren't," Mr. Hines says. "They're learning on the fly,
and this creates a sincerity that adults don't have."
ASPIRE Director Susan Lovett can't speak highly enough of her staff. "I get to witness all these moments
of grace, all these moments of true kindness," she says. "I see moments every day when staff members
are standing aside with one student, talking them down. They are so patient, but also maintain high
expectations," she says. Ms. Lovett describes the interchanges between staff members and students as
"brilliant, and exactly what this program is meant to do."
"Our program works because of the people who deliver the services."
About ASPIRE Therapeutic Afterschool Program
* Full-time, full-year school-based therapeutic afterschool program
* 100% of enrollment based on classroom teacher referrals--due to academic struggles and/or
other challenges that impede their success
* Operated by the community-based nonprofit Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention, in
collaboration with Lilla G Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester (Boston Public Schools)
* Founded in collaboration with the school in 2003
* Programming and academic supports fully integrated with school's classroom curriculum
* Provides comprehensive out of school time programming: academic support and skill-building;
safety and supervision; psychosocial, prevention, and support groups; positive youth development;
mentors and relationship-building; social/emotional health; arts, sports, recreation; motivation for
* Inclusion model
* Infuses therapeutic approach across program: Director is a social worker (MSW, LICSW) with a
Master's in Education; staff includes MSW interns; close coordination with additional on-site clinical
ASPIRE's Track Record of Success
* Tapped by Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education as an "Exemplary Plus" 21st
Century Community Learning Center; selected as MA DESE's only urban "Demonstration" CLC
* Consistently high school attendance rates (equal to or slightly better than school overall)
* 25-50% of ASPIRE students achieve honor roll
* Greater % of MCAS gains than the school's overall student body
* 100% homework completion
* 68% improvement in Reading (source: SAYOS)
* 30% increase in school engagement (source: SAYOS)
* 80% in-person family participation
* 0% same grade retention among ASPIRE students
* 52 students in school year after-school program (100 in Saturday program; 50 in summer)
* Grades 6, 7, 8; ages 11-15; 66% African American; 33% Hispanic
* 100% low income; 43% English Language Learners; 32% with disabilities
* Average reading level 3-4 years below grade level at start of enrollment; typically half a dozen
students (new refugees) are non-readers at start of enrollment
* 34% failing ELA MCAS; 40% failing Math MCAS at start of enrollment