Record Crowds of Parents Gather for Family Fitness Fun Day at P.S. 81 – VIDEO

This spring, P.S. 81 students and their families rounded out their school year with a hugely successful Family Fitness Fun Day! The event typically draws 50 or so parents from the community and their children; this year, a record-breaking 300 kids and 122 parents jumped, ran and danced their way to physical fitness. Teachers revealed secret skills as they led activities–our own School Manager Zareta Rick turned out to be a Zumba master!



Family Fitness Fun Day is part of the Fan4Kids curriculum, CFK’s health and fitness program provider at P.S. 81. As parents visited different stations with their kids, teachers and leaders encouraged them to think about how they might incorporate more physical fitness into their daily routine.



With such a record number of parents in attendance, it was an opportunity for Principal Cheryl Ault-Barker to follow up with those parents in the community who are harder to reach, and touch base with them about their children’s progress.

At the end of the day, parents were eager to share how much fun they had, and said they couldn’t wait for next year! Check out this local news coverage of the event here (featuring our own Zareta Ricks in the background).


From Clay to Claymation with P.S.15 and the CMA Media Lab – VIDEO

In June, fifth graders from P.S. 15 spent a day in the Media Lab at the Children’s Museum of Art. In the hands of these young artists, chunks of colorful clay became shapes, letters and animals. Then, molding and remolding their creations, a camera captured each subsequent shape. Check out the video below to see the finished product–students’ first clay animations!

5.27.14 PS 15 from Children's Museum of the Arts on Vimeo.

P.S. 73 Violin Students Celebrate the End of the Year with Song – VIDEO


On June 18th, the violin students in grades 2 through 5 were dressed to impress for their end of the year performance. After months of hard work, these students were eager to show off their achievement to their classmates, teachers and family who filled the newly refurbished auditorium at P.S. 73.


From “Jingle Bells” in June to the classic “Hot Cross Buns,” these young musicians played their hearts out. The audience was treated to two original compositions by fifth grade players before the concert closed with a rousing rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” performed in unison by all 43 students.


One composer, in white, directs her fellow players


The second composer, left, leads her players for a group of eager parent photographers

Our thanks to master violin instructor, Kerrick Sasaki, for his incredible work with these children this year!


Kerrick, right, with his students

Take a seat in the auditorium yourself and enjoy part of the performance in this video.

P.S. 73 Violin Concert from Change for Kids on Vimeo.

“Double Jeopardy” Summary and Study

For years we’ve known that if students don’t read by the third grade, their chances of ever reading proficiently and achieving a high school diploma are substantially decreased.  A recent study, “Double Jeopardy,” written by Hunter College Sociology Professor Donald J. Hernandez and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, looked at the relationship between different levels of poverty and reading in the third grade to determine the effects of even short periods of poverty on graduation levels.  The study reveals that:

  • Students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely not to graduate than proficient readers. This accounts to 16% of poor readers versus 4% of proficient readers
  • Students who don’t master basic reading skills by third grade are 6 times more likely to not graduate
  • To give an apples to apples comparison, the percentage of students not graduating from high school directly correlates to their reading level in the third grade–4% of proficient readers, 9% of basic readers, 23% of below basic readers
  • Poverty also affects graduation rates. 11% of the top readers who spent at least a year living in poverty will not graduate on time.  Only 2% of those who have never experienced poverty and read on grade level graduate late or not at all
  • When poor reading skills are combined with a life lived in any amount of poverty, the rates are even higher: 22% of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school. This is drastically different from those who have never lived in poverty (6%). For those students who have lived in poverty for over half their childhood the rate rises to 32%
  • With a high concentration of poverty and poor schools in their neighborhoods, 31% of African American students and 33% of Hispanic students do not graduate on time 

Given that many of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, they are up against these same double barriers. And ultimately, 26% of children who experience poverty and reading levels below proficiency will not graduate from high school.

The solution has to come from three sources: schools, families, and governmental policies.  The study suggests that improving these rates means getting parents, schools, and the government working together to create high quality PreKs and summer learning opportunities, to reduce chronic school absences and to increase access to quality healthcare–both to detect early learning problems and to give parents have access to essential support so they can better provide for their children.

As we gain a greater understanding of what early literacy means for students, it is clear that a focus on early elementary-aged students is crucial to help level the playing field and increase graduation rates for the students in our partner schools and children nation-wide.

Read the full study, “Double Jeopardy,” here. Summary by Natalie Auerbach.

From Popsicle Sticks to Community Gardens with P.S. 73

In the art studio above the galleries of the Bronx Museum one May morning, a class of P.S. 73 second graders set to work creating objects out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands. Later this spring, their art will be recreated as sculptures and structures for their community garden.


Walking around the studio, the models took all sorts of forms, from the practical to the wildly imaginative. They were all clearly the product of the day’s lesson, which brought the class face-to-face with the functional architecture of their own neighborhood and the mind-bending physics of two architectural masterworks in the museum.


At the start of the lesson, Lady Kay, the fabulous instructor from the Bronx Museum, asked students to consider the landmarks of their home turf–Yankee Stadium, the nearby park, the elevated train–with fresh eyes, and see how form followed need and function.


Back in the museum, she presented students with an arrangement of bricks balanced on four water glasses. Students came up with endless explanations as to how the sculpture could stand, and each idea pushed against what they had previously understood as brick and glass.


We can’t wait to see how students’ ideas will come to life in the community garden, but we know they will highlight a fantastic range of imagination, inspired by local architecture and contemporary art.





Unlikely Guests at the P.S. 15 Career Day – VIDEO

On Monday, May 12, P.S. 15 opened its classrooms to producers, therapists, police officers, hotel managers, DJs, dentists and more.  Each offered a glimpse into their professional lives and a future career for these young scholars.


Associate Producer at NBC, Adam Rivera, speaks to students

By the end of the day, if you asked any student, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they could only answer with a long, long list of options. It’s a credit to the fantastic speakers who inspired P.S. 15 students with their presentations. A top choice for nearly everyone: small animal handler and eco-educator. Many thanks to Jose Rodriguez and his friends from Fauna for sharing his work with us!


Eco-educator and small animal handler Jose Rodriguez introduces these shy students to a friendly lizard

When asked why he signed up to volunteer at Career Day, Jose said, “Bringing the animals to teach brings joy and gets the kids to ask good questions. And I believe it is really important to encourage kids to find work that they really love, and work that’s worthwhile.” Check out these 3rd grader’s responses to Jose’s presentation!

Unlikely Guests at PS 15′s Career Day from Change for Kids on Vimeo.

Our thanks to everyone who participated in Career Day, and we hope to see you again next year!


CFK’s own Alicia Horvath (left), who shared her work as a Research and Data Associate with students, and School Manager Alyxe Lett (right), who helped organize the day’s activities.

P.S. 81 Graduates Get a Jump on Middle School

Middle school is tough for almost everyone. It’s hard to find a single person who would look back on seventh grade and say, “That was the best time of my life!”

Imagine if, when you were in the fifth or sixth grade, someone could have given you a heads-up, a little more insight, a boost of confidence and self-respect, before you left your cozy elementary school for the unfamiliar halls of the middle school. It would have made that first year a lot better.

For years, Principal Cheryl Ault-Barker has wanted to send her fifth graders off with just such an extra dose of wisdom and love, and this spring, she will.  School Manager Zareta Ricks tapped four fantastic volunteers from the local community to speak to the graduating class.


The leaders of “It’s a Girl Thing” from left to right: CFK’s own Zareta Ricks, and volunteers Katrina, Tennille, and Angela

In two two-part workshops–”It’s a Girl Thing” and “Grooming for Greatness”–volunteers Ms. Angela, Ms. Katrina, and Ms. Tennille led the girls and Mr. Russell and Mr. Arthur led the boys in discussions that opened a safe space for students to voice their fears about leaving elementary school. They encouraged students to think about what it meant to have confidence, self-respect, and character when they faced situations that might intimidate them.


Boys learn how to tie ties with one of their workshop leaders

The workshops also addressed gender stereotypes, peer pressure, dressing for success and personal hygiene. To help bring their discussions to life, boys received a lesson in how to tie a tie and a free haircut, and girls received full manicures.

When the conversation turned to what it meant to be a girl and what it meant to be a boy, the focus was on standing together and respecting each other, and that made it possible for students to ask personal questions they hadn’t been able to ask anyone before.


CFK School Manager Zareta Ricks connects with students.

Of course there was plenty of giggling and blushing, not to mention lots of gaping mouths and gobsmacked expressions in that portion of the workshop, but as one girl explained, “It’s too much, but I have to know what’s happening!” Cupcakes and treats definitely helped make it much more bearable. And what these fifth graders learned will make their transition to a new school smoother and safer.

Many, many thanks to our stellar volunteer workshop leaders, who made such an impact on our students!


Future gentlemen



Behind the Scenes at Story Pirates HQ – VIDEO

One of CFK’s most beloved volunteer opportunities, Story Love puts our students’ whimsical stories in the hands of grown-up readers. Readers provide our budding authors with crucial positive feedback, while our students share unforgettable heroes, villains, plots twists and one-liners, like this winner from a recent session in May: “If life gives you disco balls, just disco.” Excellent advice, future Tolstoy!


But attending a Story Love session at the Story Pirates HQ in the Drama Book Shop on West 40th, volunteers get a glimpse at the madcap creative engine behind the stories they are commenting on.  Just before Memorial Day, a group of readers from the Junior League gathered there to offer feedback on stories from 4th and 5th graders at P.S. 160 in Queens. They worked in a space packed with props from past shows–dolphins, a giant Hello Kitty doll, and masks that would give Jim Henson a run for his money.  Behind the readers was a wall of kid authors whose stories have been performed at Saturday shows.



In the room next door, the Story Pirates were rehearsing at full tilt, and readers couldn’t help but laugh at overheard lines. We caught a sneak peak of the Story Pirates’ amazing creativity at work–check out this video of a few select scenes from a story about a muscle-obsessed lonely cow. Many thanks for this insider’s view, and to our friends in the Junior League for volunteering for Story Love!

Behind the Scenes with the Story Pirates for CFK from Change for Kids on Vimeo.

In their Own Words – What P.S. 15 Students Love about Garden Club – VIDEO

From planting to watching their seedlings grow to helping others, one thing is clear: the garden club is a huge success! Watch as students plant and prepare for their peas to shoot and climb, an outdoor lesson that puts hands into the soil and brings together measurement skills, environmental science, biology, and, of course, fun!

P.S. 15 – How Does Your Garden Club Grow? from Change for Kids on Vimeo.

The garden club was founded by second grade teacher Sarah Strong, Kindergarten teacher Ashley Mendolina, and two amazing PTA members. The garden they’ve started in the planters behind the school features flowers and edibles, planted and maintained by students. The garden also serves as a hands-on learning space that will bring science, math, and nutrition lessons to life.

Here are a few more photos of these young green thumbs in their element.

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P.S. 81 Learns to De-Stress before Tests – VIDEO

Nothing creates stress in the classroom quite like state tests; and nothing gets in the way of a clear head like stress. With that in mind, School Manager Zareta Ricks and Fitness Director Justin Jones from our partner program, Fan4Kids, put together a special class to help students tackle their exams. We know they’re going to do great–last year, P.S. 81 achieved an “A” rating, in part because of student success!

For the first half of the class, students had a lesson in meditation. Listening to nature sounds, they learned how to calm their minds and open their senses to the world around them. Then, after a stretch at their desks, it was outside into one of the first warm spring days to burn off any nervous energy–and have some fun!

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Here are the P.S. 81 champions, showing us how its done:

P.S. 81 Stress-Busting Champs! from Change for Kids on Vimeo.