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“What are the consequences of not measuring up?”

This question was posed in this week’s Chalkbeat article, “New York is about to release a new list of struggling schools. Here’s what you should know.”

But before we go any further, let’s really consider every angle of the question. Because the consequences of “not measuring up,” are as impactful for an individual child’s performance evaluation and future opportunities as a school’s. Each has consequences; yet what are the measurements in place – and how do they account for the vast discrepancy of available resources between schools in low-income neighborhoods, and those in more affluent areas? Importantly: is the measuring pole itself biased?

Many of the schools identified as struggling and in need of state intervention have principals in place who are visionary leaders that have been laying necessary groundwork for improvement against all odds — most dramatically, lack of adequate funding. Yet a host of other factors limit  their access to the resources necessary to affect their students’ performance in terms of measurable growth, which is defined largely by standardized testing and attendance rates.

“Schools in these bottom two tiers will be required to submit self-assessments that explain the ways their schools are falling short and craft a plan, including “evidence-based” approaches,” the article tells us. thus placing the additional burden on the educators  already pushing the outcomes improvement boulder up a grossly inequitable hill. On top of that, “Schools in the bottom-most tier must also set aside at least $2,000, a fund that students and families can vote on how to use in a process known as “participatory budgeting.” Where is the research that supports either tactic as a best practice in creating lasting improvement for the schools overall, and better outcomes for the individual students?  

Full disclosure: two of CFK’s schools are on the list. Yet the fact that these schools need help is exactly why we partner with them. Principals who are already stretched impossibly thin need a thought partner while crafting solutions, a benefit unique to the CFK model. We agree that community input is a necessary element of any solution; yet low-income and under-resourced communities are stretched to their breaking points in just finding adequate affordable housing and jobs to support their families.

Inadequate and inequitable school funding continues to unfairly tilt the playing field. Low-income scholars and those from less educated families are at a significant disadvantage for so many reasons. They need safe, welcoming, and nurturing school environments. School is often the most stable part of their day. Addressing equity issues within New York City public schools is a decades-long problem.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1967 in his last book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community: “We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

Until poverty is abolished, until bias is eliminated, under-resourced schools will struggle. They need our help to change the odds, and we’re committed to making lasting change for New York City’s schoolchildren.

 

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Welcome to Kevin Ervin, our new Executive Director!

kevinervinKevin Ervin is now the Executive Director of Change for Kids. He’s a passionate advocate for public schools, and joins us from the NYC Department of Education District 2, where he held both operational and administrative roles. An individualized approach to strengthening schools is critical to positively affect change where it is needed most, Kevin believes, and he’s been in the trenches long enough to see what’s working, and what isn’t.

Earlier in his career, he was responsible for transforming Vacamas Programs for Youth from a single-service non-profit into a multi-service, multi-city non-profit in under a decade. Kevin holds an Executive Master of Public Administration degree from NYU, and a Bachelor of Science Leadership degree from Northeastern University. He is also a musician who plays seven instruments, and he fills any room he’s in with his boundless, infectious energy.

Kevin was most drawn to Change for Kids by the passion that permeates the organization — from the Board Chair to the volunteers — and the sense that everyone working with CFK is here for the right reasons. He is especially inspired by the true partnership between CFK and our schools. Kevin’s convinced that CFK’s model of combining the best practices of numerous education and youth development programs positions us to trail-blaze a path for a new program model that can become a true partner with the City of New York, and the front-runner of school partnership models.

Here’s Kevin, in his own words: “Change for Kids is creating real, positive change in elementary schools throughout New York City’s most underserved communities. Knowing firsthand the power of education to create options and opportunity, I am so proud to lead the charge to bolster the vision of this committed organization.” We are so excited for everyone to meet him!

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A Few of Our Favorite Things in 2018

The New Year is almost upon us. All the hard-working students, staff, and School Managers in CFK’s partner schools are enjoying a well-deserved holiday break. We’re looking back at 2018 with gratitude, and forward to 2019 with optimism and determination.

There were so many highlights from 2018. Yet when we take stock of any year, we have only one measuring pole, and it’s the one that’s in our name.

How much change did we provide to kids? As it turns out, quite a bit!

  • We began exciting new program partnerships with Leap NYC and Writopia.
  • New York University’s Global Programs partnership placed six NYU students as tutors in our Manhattan schools.
  • Last spring, our first semester of programming for our first Staten Island school, PS 21 in Port Richmond, began.
  • We added Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School to our school roster in September, partnering with the invincible Principal Dawn DeCosta.
  • Our students attended several events with Salesforce aimed at developing their technology skills.
  • Our corporate sponsors and volunteer teams supported thousands of hours of learning programs, community engagement, and efforts to beautify our schools.
  • Our partnerships with Operation Warm, Nordstrom, and Payless delivered coats and shoes to kids as the cold weather began to settle in.
  • Our holiday gift and turkey drives delivered bountifully, thanks to our donors.  

In addition, we held some of our best-ever events throughout the year, including the annual Penguin Party, Golf for Kids, Charity SoulCycle Ride, Super Chefs, and the NYC Marathon.

Looking forward to 2019, we take inspiration from the words of Barack Obama:

Barak

There is still so much we can change in our communities for kids. Let’s take steps together to continue to bring positive change to kids who need it.

Between eighty and ninety percent of our students are living in severe economic hardship. In several of our schools, almost half of the students live in transient housing.

Our schools have noble and necessary visions for the future, and all of them involve creating learning environments that build self-esteem, champion the value of education, and contribute to inspiring greatness. We thank everyone for your commitment to making real change possible for kids in 2018.  Let’s make a commitment together for 2019 – for our schools, our city, and our future – to grow Change for Kids, and help even more students succeed. 

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Our Holiday Drive was a Huge Success, Thanks to You!

 

Again and again, our corporate sponsors, individual donors, and volunteers go the extra mile for the students in Change for Kids schools. This holiday season, everyone was especially generous! As we distribute Wish List holiday gifts, coats, and shoes in our schools, seeing the excitement and joy on the children’s faces as they open their packages is so fulfilling. It makes us wish every one of our generous donors could be there to witness the students’ happiness and get a firsthand thank you.

This week, we are so grateful to Payless for helping CFK send every student at Brooklyn’s PS 81 home with a brand new pair of sneakers that fit. Kids’ feet grow so quickly, and well-fitting shoes are essential for them to get the exercise they need in comfort. With their donation, Payless is making such a difference in the lives of these children.

The Wish List gift distributions are a powerful, tangible demonstration of our elementary schools’ learning communities. Many of these students live in transitional housing, and these gifts are often the only ones they will receive during the holiday season. Even in the midst of their excitement and anticipation, kids wait patiently until everyone in the class has a gift before they tear into the wrapping. They calmly negotiate among themselves if there are any swaps to make. One student revealed that her wish list gift was actually intended for her younger sister, whose school doesn’t have a gift wish list program. Sometimes the kids were prompted to say thank you by the teachers, yet most of the time they shouted and squealed their thanks as soon as their gifts were opened. An aspiring musician in the second grade was absolutely incredulous that his electronic keyboard was really his to take home!

The magic of giving filled classrooms across the city, and made us wish that we could bring this special feeling to every community. Our enormous thanks to everyone involved in the Payless shoe distribution, and to everyone who bought a gift for a CFK school, including the groups at Apollo Global Management, Yale Club, NYU’s Black Alumni Association Cherry Ivy, MTS, Erica Barrett, Slack, Labaton, Union Square Ventures, Northern Trust, and so many more.

CFK wishes you and yours a very happy holiday season.

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In Praise of Our Volunteers

Volunteers are vital to everything we do at Change for Kids. You help us with everything: from working to improve literacy with our elementary school scholars through Reading Buddies and Build-A-Book activities, introducing them to coding, and helping bring their creativity to life. When we need you to lend a hand helping us move furniture and paint walls to create comfort corners and de-escalation rooms, and gather holiday gifts for our schools, you are there. This much is certain: we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you.

Many of you return year after year, always with smiles on your faces, as eager as kindergartners. It turns out that volunteering has a multitude of mental and physical health benefits. Several recent studies aimed to better understand the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness across a large group of American adults. Unsurprisingly, they discovered that the more people volunteer, the happier they are. The University of Exeter Medical School’s 2013 global study found plenty of evidence that volunteering often leads to reported lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

Porsha Pate, who most recently was a Guest Reader Volunteer at Brooklyn Landmark, puts it this way: “Change For Kids sets the bar high in terms of creating community, developing children’s skills, and modeling leadership. From the comfortable atmosphere in the classrooms to the engaged kids, it’s a combination of sharing, learning, and making a difference. It makes me feel incredibly thankful and optimistic going into the holidays, too. I’m looking forward to more volunteering in the new year!”

Thank you, Porsha, and thank you to everyone who volunteers with us. If you’d like to sign up for one of our upcoming opportunities, please reach out to Mesha Allen, our Volunteer Coordinator, at mallen@changeforkids.org.

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#WHYCFK Wednesday Leadership Roundtable

Among the many programs CFK runs, our Leadership Roundtables stand out as an important way to support our school leaders. They are collaborative forums for understanding schools’ needs and help create avenues to provide the necessary solutions. These in-person gatherings of principals and School Managers generally take place three times over the course of the school year.

Our most recent Leadership Roundtable deserves a loud shout-out of thanks to everyone who participated. It was an incredibly honest and inspirational session, and tangibly demonstrated the value of the work CFK does together with our partner schools. Remarkable for so many reasons, what stood out as each of these passionate school leaders shared their strategies and challenges was the deep respect they have for one another as educators and the exemplary way they consistently demonstrate that respect. The kids in our schools are in good hands with these amazing role models caring about their futures.

The evening kicked off with introductions, then Komal Sharma Patel of the Child HELP Partnership began our discussion by outlining services they provide to families, children, schools, and communities. Founded in 2001, CHP is nationally recognized as a leading source for evidence-based mental health treatment and prevention of childhood trauma. Their mission is to better protect and heal families from trauma and its emotional impact. Trauma affects children in so many ways that prevent them from being able to focus on education and instruction. Maintaining safe, trauma-sensitive spaces is critical for kids experiencing trauma.

The Partnership’s approach is to teach every level of the school community how to recognize and respond to behavioral, emotional, academic, and relationship impacts of trauma while maintaining safety. Workshops can be crafted to cover the prevalence of trauma disorder among children and adults; how it manifests in a school setting; how the symptoms may mask as ADHD; and what are the next steps/consequences and resources available to prevent trauma and create a safe environment at all levels.

The passionate discussion that followed demonstrated how deeply this topic resonates with our School Leadership, and their determination to create safe, welcoming, and nurturing school environments that inspire scholars and can help them through the sometimes scary and dangerous events that may create trauma in their lives. As the principals shared their questions and current approaches, it became obvious that Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is not a disconnect from academic emphasis. It operates hand-in-hand with understanding and
educating the whole child. SEL provides positive school environments to nurture
students’ physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. CFK can and should take a programmatic approach to empower principals and make meaningful matches in resources to improve SEL in our schools.

Next, we heard from Dawn DeCosta, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower Schools (TMALS), as she shared some of the SEL Best Practices in place (and working well!) at TMALS.

Using the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER approach, the school starts with a mission focused on cultural relevance, self-esteem, and social justice. The comprehensive set of best practices Dawn shared emphasize the imperative to take care of kids’ emotional and social needs so they feel safe enough to be able to focus on their academic work. The dozens of programs and strategies she shared got the entire room enthusiastically nodding their heads.  Here are some highlights:

  • Community Morning Meeting – the school starts every day with a daily breakfast program, including silent reading, poetry, a recitation of the School Creed, and a school-wide meditation session to allow the kids to decompress and focus on the day of learning ahead; these are led by Self-Awareness leaders –  students who lead meditations and mood meter check-ins in classroom who also act as peer mediators. Here’s an example of a 4th-grader’s Self-Awareness Leader profile: “I want to be a Meditation Leader because I want to bring peace to earth. I want everyone to hear and feel my calm voice.”
  • Class and Staff Charters – Charters are statements of how each group wants to feel and the necessary behaviors to ensure accountability, including how conflicts will be handled. Some example statements that are included in the Charters: We want to feel Respected, Trusted, Supported, Motivated, and Safe. In order to feel respected, we will greet each other, and treat others the way they want to be treated. In order to feel trusted, we will use discretion and express our feelings positively. Etc.”
  • Family Charters extend the idea of behavior agreements and accountability. Practices learned in the school are shared with family members. Families are invited into the school in the evenings to learn the same self-awareness strategies their students are learning.
  • Encouragement Bulletin Boards include:

    • Take what you Need: A hallway bulletin board covered with envelopes containing affirmations that the students write. They can take one whenever they feel the need
    • Give what You Can: another bulletin board covered with envelopes of suggestions  for something every kid can do for someone else (i.e. write a poem for someone feeling bad, write an uplifting letter to a friend, etc.)

Over and over again, we heard testaments to this “culture of caring” approach and how it’s working in each of our schools. We also heard that RESPECT is paramount and consistency is key to success.

There was so much to share and we soon ran out of time. To continue this conversation, CFK plans to roll out a virtual CFK School Leadership Group in the coming weeks to facilitate these important conversations and establish a platform for ongoing dialog and collaboration. This platform will also serve as a repository for best practices, recommended resources, etc..

Our thanks to everyone involved in last week’s Roundtable. We’re looking forward to more inspiring Roundtables with this amazing group of dedicated School Leaders!.

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Healthy Harvest 2018

On Tuesday, November 20th, PS 142, one of our thirteen partner schools, celebrated its third annual Harvest Feast. It was exactly what a feast should be: delicious, fun, and a grateful gathering of community. Seventeen of RBC’s volunteers fed over 300 members of our school community with amazing catered food from Sophie’s. An additional sixteen families in transitional housing fed their families the following night with the leftovers, extending the impact of RBC’s generosity from one evening to multiple days of Thanksgiving meals for entire families.  To ensure no one went home hungry or empty-handed, RBC and CFK provided 40 families with amazing food gift baskets via raffle, and five more families received Visa gift cards.

88% – that’s nearly all – of the students in the school are identified as being in economic need by NYC DOE. Which means they are experiencing economic hardship based on temporary housing, eligibility for public housing, and Census tract poverty rates.

The Harvest Feast plays a role in helping PS 142 make its mission of equity and social justice real. The school encourages students to develop a sense of agency and excitement for learning that extends beyond the classroom, and it was a pure delight for CFK’s staff and the RBC volunteers to help feed their bodies as well their minds. The event exemplifies both CFK’s and PS 142’s shared values of being responsive to the needs of the scholars and school community at large.

We are proud to support their efforts in creating an emotionally and academically supportive environment for all students, allowing them to develop empathy for others and be challenged to achieve at high levels.

We’re very grateful to RBC, all the volunteers, and to the entire PS 142 community. It was a truly great night for teachers, kids, parents, and volunteers to bond and feast as one big PS 142 family!

RBC is already making plans for next year’s Harvest Feast to be even more special. Stay tuned!