Fort Point Q&A #4- Pamela Civins

It’s time for another edition of Fort Point Q&A! Boston has long been a city affiliated with education. Just take a look at the massive amount of world-class institutions of higher education we have in the area. With that in mind, we decided to talk to Boston Partners in Education to get a local Fort Point nonprofit’s take on both the neighborhood and education. We hope you’ll enjoy our interview with Pamela Civins, executive director of Boston Partners in Education.

(Photo Credit: Boston Partners in Education)

How did you come to work at Boston Partners in Education?
It’s my 11th year serving as executive director, and both the organization and I have been in the neighborhood for quite some time. I actually worked in 44 Farnsworth for another company prior to joining Boston Partners in Education. I used to work for World Education, supporting work overseas with girls’ and women’s education in South Asia mainly. It was interesting work, but I have a life here in Boston too, you know? Living in places like Nepal can be fun and rewarding, but homesickness does start to creep in after a certain point. It was getting harder for me to travel overseas all the time and spend so much time away from my family. In the end I had to make some decisions about what I wanted to do. I decided that I wanted to lead an organization in Boston, and it’s just so fortunate that I was able to do that here at Boston Partners in Education.

What are some of your favorite things about Fort Point?
Like I mentioned earlier, I have been working in Fort Point for a while. I interviewed here in 1996, and starting working here in 1998 after I got back from Nepal. One of my favorite places in the neighborhood is Metro. It’s been here for about as long as I have, and I really appreciate that even though nowadays I hardly ever go out for lunch. The new restaurants are nice as well. Drink is really fun for special occasions, Lucky’s Lounge is great, Gather over at District Hall is phenomenal. Just being able to walk across the street and having the option to dine at several great restaurants is what I like about Fort Point, really. Blue Dragon has great food and an interesting atmosphere- it actually used to be a Greek diner back in the day that had great gyros. The Lawn on D is a nice space too, along with the section of the Harborwalk by the Courthouse.

In September Boston Partners in Education celebrated its 50th anniversary collaborating with Boston Public Schools. How do you envision the next 50 years to be like?

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary all throughout this year, our partnership is stronger than ever with Boston Public Schools. It’s also really important to highlight the need for our academic mentors at the schools- to meet students where they are and to support them academically. I definitely see us serving more students over the next 50 years. At the moment, we serve 3,000 children. Over the next three to five years, we want to serve at least 25 percent more. For us to do that, we are definitely going to need more volunteers for our communities. I would really love for folks to get involved in their local communities and volunteer at schools nearby.

For Fort Point, the nearest schools would be in South Boston. Dorchester and Dudley Square are also just a short train or bus ride away. Overall, for the next 50 years Boston Partners in Education is really just going to hold true to our mission and help kids succeed in school. There’s so much potential in our city, and the students that we help today are our future leaders of tomorrow. I want them to stay in school, graduate on time, and make those critical decisions revolving around attending college, trade school, or pursuing full-time employment. Overall, the goal is to get them to complete that education, to come back and live in our communities, making it great places to live.

As Fort Point continues to change, how do you see Boston Partners in Education’s role changing?

I definitely see us being a part of this neighborhood by engaging more with the new businesses who want to get involved with Boston Public Schools. Hopefully, we will be able to stay in this neighborhood as a resource for people and organizations looking to get involved in volunteering and becoming academic mentors. I would love to connect with more of the organizations we have in Fort Point. As more development goes underway in the neighborhood, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities for people working and living here to get a good meal, see a movie, you know? And we definitely hope to be a part of those opportunities, and of the expanding vibrant community that is Fort Point. I remember there was a time when I was but one of a few people coming out of the Silver Line, and now there’s a ton of people that talk the Silver Line to this area every day. It’s great seeing the new and positive energy that startups bring to this neighborhood.

What does mentorship mean to Boston Partners in Education?

Mentorship is important in any way you can find a mentor. Personally it’s really important, and professionally I’ve benefited from mentors. A lot of it comes down to simply knowing there is someone out there who cares for you. We call our volunteers academic mentors- without those people from our community who are volunteering and being mentors, we simply would not exist. Mentors to us are really important because they help us support students in Boston. We’re so thankful to the people in the community who really want to spend time with our children in the city. They are folks who see that these children have a ton of potential and thus want to share with these kids their experiences and parts of their life to help them succeed academically, or take a chance on something.
Mentors come in all shapes and forms, ours just happen to be right in the Boston Public Schools. The other piece about mentoring that I like and what I like about our academic mentors is the fact that they actually get to go into the schools. Sometimes I think we might walk past a school or not even know that we’re walking past a school and that what’s happening in that school is really special. There’s a lot of good stuff happening in that school and so I think for more people to be able to see that in the community, the message that they’re going to bring out to their own networks is going to be a positive one. That’s what I hope to see. There is quality education happening in Boston, wonderful teachers along with bright students, and the more we can help our community members see that, understand that and spread the word, I think that’ll be great.

As technology advances, how do you see this affecting education and do you think local Fort Point companies such as LogMeIn could help play a small pivotal role in the process?

Yeah, I think it’ll be interesting to see how school districts around our country actually think about how we educate our children differently. The kids that are born today are native users of technology. It’s not like 20 years ago, not like 10 years ago, 5 years ago, right? There’s definitely a place for technology and education to intersect.
I think all kids should take a coding class, to be honest with you. That should be part of the curriculum, because if they know to code, they’re going to understand various aspects of technology better than ever. I think with technology coming in, people who use technology everyday can also acknowledge that interpersonal communication and being with one another, getting to know one another, communicating with one another is really important. And so in a way that our work is even more important today than it was 50 years ago. With technology, there’s a lot of ways to tune people out, and it’s important to maintain open avenues of communication especially in education. Companies such as LogMeIn can help in bringing cutting-edge technology to the table, but it is important that such technology is met with folks like us, who maintain these relationships between student and mentor.

You’ve mentioned Nepal a bit over the course of this interview, do you mind elaborating more on your time there?

Sure. I went to Nepal for a little over a month last year during my sabbatical. I had also lived there for 2 years during the 1990s, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I say a lot of times that Boston Partners in Education is in the business of building relationships, whether it’s between our volunteers and students, or between us and our corporate partners- and it’s no secret that sometimes we can all get too busy with what’s going on in our lives that we tend to ignore some of the relationships we have. For my sabbatical, it was all about reconnecting. So that’s why I went back to Nepal to look at some relationships from many years ago. You really know a relationship is strong when you haven’t seen someone for 13 years and it feels like you saw them only yesterday. That happened to me when I went back, and it was honestly the best thing.

Nepal’s a beautiful country and the people are wonderful. I really consider it to be a second home for me. It was wonderful for me to go with my partner, as she had never been to Nepal. I got to introduce her to my Nepali family, took her to the village, and really show her that time of my life when I was in the Peace Corps. That time of my life really helped to shape who I am today and my career trajectory, and helped me to become “”me”. To be able to take her to see that, experience that and to take her on a little trek was one of the main highlights.

(Photo Credit: Boston Partners in Education)

Interested in learning more about Boston Partners in Education? Check out their website for more information on what they do and their mission.

And that’s a wrap for this Fort Point Q&A. Let us know your concerns and all about your cisterns in the comments section below. Want to suggest someone in the Fort Point community for us to interview? E-mail us at Interested in learning more about what goes on in Fort Point? Sign up for the newsletter right here.

Brandon is Digital Content Coordinator with the Friends of Fort Point Channel and a current senior at Boston College.