This year, as P.S. 81 teachers and staff welcomed back their students, they also welcomed a new face–CFK’s new School Manager, Zareta Ricks. Zareta coordinates CFK’s programs at P.S. 81 and builds relationships with students, teachers, administrators, parents and volunteers. She is also the School Manager for Brooklyn Landmark. Here at CFK, Zareta works with our brand new Education Director, Kayla Dove. For those of you who don’t get to sit across from Kayla in the office, or aren’t lucky enough to still be in grade school at P.S. 81, we thought you might like to hear a little bit about these two program dynamos, in their own words.
Abby Holstein: School has been in session for a few weeks now. Any highlights you can share from your days at P.S. 81 or our other partner schools so far?
Zareta Ricks: I am really excited about both of the schools that I am working with. Meeting with Principal Ault and her team at P.S. 81 was truly inspiring. It was great to hear teachers and administrators speak so highly of the impact CFK has made at the school and to see their determination to have a great year.
Kayla Dove: What immediately comes to mind is my recent visit to P.S. 15. I had a chance to take a tour and speak to a few of the classroom teachers. I was amazed that in the short time we’ve been partnered with the school (programs only started last January), the impact is so palpable–from the mural we helped create that greets you as you walk in, to the teachers, who asked, “When is the program starting again, we can’t wait.”
AH: What are you excited to do in your new position? What do you hope to achieve?
ZR: I am hoping to build upon the existing programs and increase CFK’s involvement at P.S. 81, and especially encourage more family involvement. At P.S. 81, I am hoping to take all of our existing programs to the next level by providing more volunteer opportunities and engaging families with cook shops, book clubs, and quarterly events. I also want to make sure that CFK has a visible, tangible presence at P.S. 81.
KD: I am excited about starting a new team with Zareta and Alyxe [Lett, our School Manager for P.S. 73 and P.S. 15]. We each have specific strengths that are complementary to each other and we all have the same passion for the work. I hope to build on the idea of what it means to be a CFK school and develop a network between the schools for the sharing of ideas.
AH: Tell me about the work you did before you came to Change for Kids.
ZR: Before joining CFK, I was the first Family Coordinator at a new elementary school in East New York, Brooklyn. I worked closely with the principal and administrative team to overcome the stereotype that poverty-stricken areas equal low-quality education. Through open communication, relative research, and relentless efforts to engage families and the school community, we made a significant improvement in the school’s culture and overall moral.
KD: I started out as a dancer and a dance educator, developing a multidisciplinary approach to learning, and teaching in different venues, from pre-K to college. I then moved into museum education, working closely with schools to bring resources of the institutions to support learning in the classroom. Museums and organizations I’ve worked at are: Liberty Science Center, Young Audiences New York, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Long Island Children’s Museum. Most recently I worked as a research assistant at the Educational Development Center on project evaluating science learning in pre-school classrooms.
AH: What brought you to CFK?
ZR: My work in under-resourced schools made it increasingly clear to me every day that children needed a holistic education. And not only did the children need more support, but the educators needed more support, as well. More resources, more educational outlets, and most important, more people on their side who would partner with them in helping children learn and develop the necessary skills at an early age that would lay the foundation for higher education.
I was impressed with the impact CFK was making in their partner schools through their strategic and purposeful partnerships. Joining CFK was an opportunity to become a part of the solution. The School Manager position allows me the flexibility to work with children, educators, families and the community in creating partnerships with amazing people who believe that it takes a village to teach and raise educated, successful 21st century children.
KD: For the past 20 years I have worked in organizations that bring its resources to support learning in under-served schools. What sets Change for Kids apart from other organizations is the work that’s done to individualize each partnership with the needs of the school and community. It is also an interesting time for CFK, reflecting on what is working and seeing how the model can be expanded, without compromising the quality of the partnerships.
I truly believe in CFK’s mission. My personal mission for my work is: knowing that each child learns differently, and that not every child learns best by reading a book at a desk, I want to help each child to develop skills that will help them succeed in school and life. And that is what CFK does.
AH: Do you have a favorite story from your work in education?
ZR: During my first year working in a school, I met a first grade student who struggled with behavior challenges. This young man had a habit of walking into my office and quietly placing himself under my desk. (Yes! Under my desk.) Initially, I found this to be quite disturbing – as did both of his teachers – but despite all of our efforts, he continued to do this at least twice a day.
I finally resolved to let him stay as long as he wanted. After a few weeks, he began to talk to me (from under the desk) and ask me for supplies (pencil and paper). To make a long story short, this young man was a phenomenal artist and he spent time on my office floor drawing the most amazing pictures and creating stories to go with them. He used his talent as a way to communicate his needs in and out of the classroom. I became his advocate in the school building. With his family and the school’s permission, we kept this arrangement for the three years I was at the school.
KD: This goes under the category of multidisciplinary learning, I was doing a professional development workshop for school administrators (principals and superintendents) and I had them all up and doing the “bee dance.” I am sure they will never look at a bee the same way again.
AH: Do you have a favorite memory from your elementary school days?
ZR: My favorite memory from elementary school was winning the spelling bee in the 5th grade. My teacher had encouraged me to participate, and when I won the first round, she congratulated me. Then she told me in a stern voice that there was a second round of competition and that I would compete against the winners from other schools in my district. She explained that every round would get tougher and tougher, but if I studied hard and believed in my ability then I could do it. She reminded me that I already was a winner, and not to focus on being one of the finalists or the last one standing, but to remember that every time I spelled a word correctly I was closer to the gold. I made it to the semi-finals and didn’t win the trophy or title, but her words helped me understand that winning is more than a moment, it is a confidence in myself to achieve.
KD: It’s too many years ago…but I do remember being able to spend one day a term in elementary school painting a picture of anything I wanted to in the back of the classroom and not having to participate in the day’s lessons. I can’t imagine elementary school without art, music or recess.
AH: Thank you, Kayla and Zareta, and welcome to Change for Kids!