Throughout Boston Partners in Education’s 50 years of providing volunteers to Boston Public Schools (BPS), certain trends remain consistent, regardless of our programs. For instance, volunteers often connect strongly with the teacher they support, and continue visiting their classroom years after their involvement with Boston Partners ends. While we hope our volunteers stay with us, we’re proud to facilitate connections between community and classrooms that are strong enough to continue without our presence.
One such example is the two decade-long relationship between a trio of workers at the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority and a teacher at the Harvard-Kent School. In 1994, Kristen, Ellen, and John were recruited to BPS for a program called AquaSmarts, a partnership between Boston Partners and the New England Aquarium. Once placed with Rhonda Knox, a teacher at the Harvard-Kent, they were inspired to stay matched with Knox until her retirement in 2014.
“It was always a very positive experience. The kids loved having us there. It was rewarding for us, and our relationship with the teacher was great,” says Kristen. She stayed with the class after the AquaSmarts program ended.
She continues, “Ms. Knox was a unique character and very committed to her students. She had this subtle and calm way of handling her kids. She drove from Connecticut to Boston every day. This is probably not unique to Boston schools, or other city schools where she provided a lot of the resources.”
This dedication inspired the trio to continue visiting the class upon Ms. Knox’s request. Over twenty five years, they helped her students in a variety of ways, from designed lessons and curriculum, to field trips and individual support. They also held lessons about their careers.
“We explained what we did for work and kids would understand there are different things out there that they could be,” Ellen explains.
John shares, “When I started, I was actually working in the sewers. When I would tell the kids that, they thought it was great. They would ask, ‘How many rats did you see?’ and all that. That was my job and they seemed to gravitate towards it.”
John was a particular favorite of the boys in the class. Kristen smiles, recalling, “Ellen and I noticed that the kids would flock to John, mostly the boys. A lot of them didn’t have a father in their home, so they’d flock to this handsome devil.”
“They’d climb all over him,” laughs Ellen. She remembered one particular student followed John around, bombarding him with non-stop questions. The trio credit this attention to the difficult home life that some of the kids experienced, and their desire to interact with positive adult role models.
“A lot of students, we learned from Ms. Knox, didn’t have the most stable family lives,” says Kristen. “Every now and then we’d hear about something about students. We’d be with them all year and didn’t know, and we’d find out something tragic about their family situation. I think that was more common than we were aware of.”
Several times a year the students wrote thank you notes to the three mentors. Each one produced stacks of the handmade, construction paper cards that they kept as mementos dating back to 1994. Some cards remember specific experiments performed in class, like a baking soda volcano. A few others recall adventures on field trips to Chinatown and the various parks in the Charlestown area. And others alternate between chiding and imploring the three to show up to the class more often for holidays, like Thanksgiving and Halloween. All of the cards express a sincere gratitude and interest in Kristen, Ellen, and John for being in the classroom.