Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in May 2021 undergraduate student Tommy Teravainen (C‘22) conducted a semi-structured focus group in Nativity Preparatory School, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA. In this interview, the students discuss their experiences with a commitment to doing justice during their time spent at Nativity.
First thing I have for you is if we could just go around and share our name, age, and anything else that is important to you that you would like to share.
Hilton: My name is Hilton and I’m fourteen years old and I go to Nativity Prep.
Zion: My name’s Zion, I’m 14, and I go to Nativity Prep.
Hilary: My name is Hilary, I am 14, and I go to Nativity Prep.
What do you guys do besides go to Nativity Prep? Do you play any sports or what do you like to do?
Hilton: I play basketball.
Hilary: I am on an AAU team for basketball.
Zion: I play basketball too.
I was terrible at basketball. When I was in middle school my town had an A team, B team, C team, and D team. Guess which one I was.
Yup, it was painful, but that's enough about me. My next question is also pretty straight forward: what brought you to Nativity Prep?
Hilton: My mother, basically yeah, I didn’t really know about the school.
How did you hear about it?
Zion: I think one of my mom’s friends told her about it.
Have you been going here since fourth grade?
Hilton: I would say I found out. My mom’s friend found out, she applied for her son here, and then she applied for him somewhere else. But she initially liked the school so she gave my mom a heads-up about it, and I already had three other friends from church that went here, so it made it easier to integrate in.
Hilary: Same with Hilton. Our mom found out.
Do any of you have any brothers who have gone to or are currently going to Nativity Prep?
Hilton: Hilary is my brother, and I also have another fourth grade brother here named Yuwa.
Really?! You guys are brothers?
Hilton and Hilary: Yes, twins.
Wow, you guys should have just opened with that. That’s cool though, and who else?
Hilton: My brother, he’s in fourth grade, Yuwa.
Yuwa, cool, I will keep an eye out. It seems like most people who are going here typically find out about the school by word of mouth?
Hilton: Yeah. And, like, recently we have been doing something, like, there’s been fliers around the school, and around Jamaica Plain there’s probably a couple flyers, and then we recently had, like, these, you know how high school when they graduate, they usually have these poster things that you give out, we recently been giving those out and then putting them in our own.
That’s awesome. Do you guys all know where you are going to high school next year?
Hilton: I’m going to BC High.
Zion: I’m going to Xaverian by myself, which is kind of tough like it’s gonna be weird.
No one else from your class is going?
Hilton: See, I was gonna go to Xaverian but I forgot that he was gonna go, cuz I wasn’t trying to go by myself. I'm going to BC High.
So you guys will still be together?
Hilton and Hilary: Yeah.
Do you want to go to college together too?
Hilary and Hilton: Uh, I don’t really know.
Yeah, that’s still far off, you got plenty of time to think about that. Cool, and I wouldn’t be worried about going to high school by yourself. I was the only one who went to my high school from my middle school and it turned out fine. You will do great… So related to that, what are some ways Nativity Prep has prepared you for high school and after high school too?
Hilary: They prepared us by letting us know somebody is not going to be telling you to do your work so you are gonna have to start doing your work by yourself.
That’s definitely important. I learned that in college after high school.
Zion: I would say when you start off in fourth grade, to use me as an example, I was sensitive and kinda timid in fourth grade, but after fourth grade when you graduate from Nativity you’re really open and it’s easy for you to make friends. It’s an all-boys school though, so it might be hard to talk to girls or whatever, but it’s easy to make friends with other boys and people with different interests.
Hilton: I think they did a good job because they prepared us by giving us certain tests, and when you get to high school and college when you actually take it you won’t have to worry as much.
Cool, thanks for sharing that, guys. And my next question is what does it mean to you guys to become a man for others?
Hilton: To be a man for others to me means, like to give your time to someone without really expecting stuff back.
Zion: I would say you don’t really get a grasp of what that really is until you get later on into your Nativity career—like seventh or eighth grade. To me it's more just like always having a helping hand and being a friend to everybody no matter if they’re the same skin color as you, different gender, different economic situation, or anything like that. You are always open to helping anyone and everyone.
Hilton: I think being a man for others shows a lot about how someone really is, and at Nativity they have taught us how to be men for others. We do a lot of community service around this area and just in general you can tell: if you're at Nativity and you see people coming in we just shake their hand. Very welcoming community.
Awesome, yeah, as soon as I got here a few days ago it felt super welcoming and everyone would say hello. Very welcoming group of people. Thanks for the answers, those are all really good. My next question: Can you think back to a particular moment, program, teacher, or staff member that you feel has really inspired you to become a man for others?
Hilary: Some teachers I would say like, Mr. Adames, Mr. A., and Mr. Docanto because at Nativity most of your teachers are also gonna be your coaches so you’re also gonna be able to literally reach out to them apart from the classroom.
Zion: I would say there have been a couple teachers over the years like Mr. Murphy, he was our fifth grade math teacher, he has now moved on from the school. Mr. Diggs, he used to be our vice principal here. And then we have other people like they said, Mr. A., Mr. Docanto, and Mr. Adames and, like, Mr. Murphy—but Mr. Murphy is kinda singled out from that group of people because Mr. Murphy was white obviously, but those other people, they were African-American teachers or they’re Caribbean or things of that sort, so being in a school that is mostly all kids of color and then seeing those guys not at their peak of where they want to be in life. But they’re ahead, they’re in leadership—they want us to grow and really build that mindset.
Hilary: I think like they said, a lot of teachers of color at Nativity, they relate to us and some things that they know, they are giving out to us so that when we go out to the outside world we will know. And like Zion said, Mr. Murphy, he’s taught us how to grow into the people we are now and to be caring and aware of our surroundings and to be able to be comfortable [with] who we are on the inside and who we are as a class. ‘Cuz one of his main things was to always tell us, like, we are the best class or we have the most potential out of the whole school to be the best class and at Nativity, as a family—brotherhood, that’s the main thing. At this point in our Nativity career we are all like family, like we go over to each other's houses a lot and we text, and everything like that. And that’s, like, the relationship we have, I would say, like, the main person who brought that forth was him and then Mr. A. also helped us.
Nice, when did Mr. Murphy leave?
Zion: He went on to teach another all-boys school ‘cuz he felt like he wanted to give those guys the same way he taught us and to show them like the Nativity way, even if it is not like a Jesuit school or anything. He just wanted to show them what it would be like if they went here. Show them like that type of lifestyle, that type of mindset.
It’s crazy how he was only here for two years but he had such a big impact on you. And you feel like you have changed a lot since the fourth grade in understanding justice and what it means to be a man for others.
Zion: Hmm hm.
I feel like I noticed it in talking to some of the fifth and sixth graders, but it seems like you guys understand it a lot more. And my next question is what does it mean to you guys to be a Jesuit school.
Hilary: To be like a Jesuit school, I don’t really know. ‘Cuz we practice most of the time as if we are in a church with Masses—like, not every day but like twice or three times a month, but we haven’t been doing it now ‘cuz of COVID and stuff.
Zion: To me, I am not even gonna lie, but it’s not that important to me, like it shows you a couple things like how Jesuits are an all men’s faith so it shows how us as men can connect with each other not just on a personal level, but also on a spiritual level. But for me it’s more of just like a faith that the school does and that the school supports, because I personally do not follow that faith so it’s just like an everyday thing to me; it hasn’t really changed my thoughts or views.
Hilton: Especially when we first started, the first type of Mass that we ever had. I didn’t really get it because it’s church, so why am I doing church at school. And the way we are dressed now with the shirt and tie and stuff, I didn’t really like it at first because it made me uncomfortable, especially during recess and stuff. But during the day I kinda just got used to it.
Cool, what’s your guys’ class name or saint?
Hilary: His name is Curry. Father Richard Curry.
Do you guys help pick that or is that important to you at all?
Hilary: The year before we come into the fourth grade, all of the other classes would vote—they would tell a story of what they did.
Zion: And what they would do, they wouldn’t know who the Jesuits were by name, The Jesuits would be named A, B, C, or D and after they went and they would find out more about those Jesuits. And I think like at a certain point in time, I would say in like March, you would do it earlier on in the year and then later on F.
Cool. Another question for you guys is how does Nativity Prep define success for its students? What does success mean to you now?
Hilton: Success to me means, like, so when I first came to Nativity I thought success was like ... then over the years realized success is when you continue to feel but as you feel you’re still progressing.
Zion: I would say, I agree with Hilton, success is what makes you happy, your achievements and how they benefit you, and even the people around you, even if they don’t always benefit them, it’s about how it benefits you, your mood, the people around you, and whether it makes you happy or not. That’s kind of, like, another aspect of success that we learned here.
Yeah, that is really important to learn.
Hilary: Yeah, about success, I think they teach us success is a way of life that a lot of people might hate ‘cuz not everybody can just be good at something. So if you want success you are gonna have to work really hard for it.
Cool, and do you guys think that these definitions of success you all gave me are related to being “committed to doing justice” in some way at all?
Hilton: Yeah, ‘cuz if you are trying to be committed to justice, then you are not always gonna get what you want on the first try. But once you start really trying, failing, and not getting what you want, then you can really see what you want and what you can improve on.
Zion: And I guess this could relate to justice, but you see this a lot in different neighborhoods where the older adults usually give stories and lessons to the younger kids about what they did and what went wrong in their lives who helped them steer away from that, and I feel like it’s a similar thing we do here. You know, if it’s not always related to a test or something and someone does something that requires a demerit or a punishment like that. We learn all this stuff over the years, and we are usually helping to steer those younger kids away from doing those things that would get them in trouble and to get punished or whatever. I guess that’s one way it might be related to justice. Or like there’s been other situations where something happens, and whether the student is in the right or the wrong, and usually the student is in the right but whether the student is in the right or the wrong. We know that sometimes what they did might not warrant the punishment that is gonna be given.
Hilary: Yeah I think, uh, that being committed to justice is not an easy thing to do. Depending on what type of person you are, being committed to doing justice is hard. Like a lot of the older kids would talk to the younger kids about what’s going on and stuff. When we were in fourth grade, a lot of the eighth and seventh graders would try to get to know us better. So by the time we were in there it wouldn’t be too stressful. And now the eighth grade[rs], we do like to talk to the younger kids and get to know them and see what they’re up to.
You guys really do sound like a family by looking over the younger kids, that's really awesome. Thank you for sharing those answers. We are almost done so I won’t keep you much longer. Do you guys think you would want to return to Nativity Prep in the future to either volunteer or teach?
Hilton: I actually have been thinking about that. If I can, then I would definitely try to come back to Nativity and teach, because I like how many of our teachers have set a good example for us and are talking to us about their experience at Nativity.
Zion: I would say yeah. I am still trying to determine what I want to do with my life obviously, but I would say yeah because I’ve been thinking about not only working with kids in general but coming back here and showing the kids that are going to come that the Nativity experience can be a great time, and what it will be like after they graduate from high school and college and what it will be like at Nativity. I would tell them all of the stories and stuff that we have been through, teach them, and make them grow as young men so then they can come back to Nativity and do the same thing. Because that is the only way Nativity is going to become a better place, and that is the only way to make it evolve and become richer by coming back and helping out the community.
Hilary: I have thought about it, coming back to be a teacher and working here, because we do have teachers that were students here themselves like Mr. Adames, Mr. Docanto, and even our principal Mr. Goso. I think when I go to college, my plans in life are I just want to play professional basketball when I get older. But if that doesn’t work out then I will probably come back here because I know Nativity will always have a spot for people that have been here. Nativity’s Grad Support follows you through college, high school, and forever, so I know I will always be in contact with Nativity.