#WhyCFK, P.S. 81, Uncategorized

P.S. 81 Students Get Moving

In NYC, 1 in 5 kindergarten students are obese, and almost three quarters of elementary school children did not receive the state-mandated minimum amount of exercise last school year. That’s #WhyCFK hosts family fitness events at our partner schools—to get even our youngest students into a habit of physical activity.

P.S. 81 in Brooklyn recently held the school’s Community Wellness Fair. While parents scoured the auditorium and met with multiple community organizations that offer health and wellness services, students participated in fitness activities to get their bodies moving. Some students tried yoga for the first time, while others tested their backward jump roping skills. CFK Board Member Laura Farah joined in on the fun and encouraged students to test their limits!

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CFK Program Partners, P.S. 81

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).

P.S. 81

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.


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.


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.

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!



P.S. 81

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!

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

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

P.S. 81

H is for Hollywood – P.S. 81 Pre-K Walks the Red Carpet for ABC Book Day

On March 12, P.S. 81’s two PreK classes worked the red carpet for an audience of adoring fans—their parents, teachers, and P.S. 81 staff.  School Manager Zareta Ricks and the amazing team at P.S. 81 put a new spin on the classic Pearson ABC Book photo day, transforming two classrooms into Hollywood backdrops.



For those of you unfamiliar with this program, using a template book, pre-K students create their own ABC reader.  On the first day of the program, students are photographed holding colorful props that illustrate different letters in the alphabet—for example, a ball for the letter B, and a flower for the letter F. Parents are invited to join in the fun and be photographed with their children.  Once photos are done for each child, we print them out on stickers.  On the second day of the program, students stick their stickers into their template book and, P is for presto!, each student goes home with their own ABC book.

Over at P.S. 81, our starlets posed (and played shy) with their zebras and ice cream cones.  While waiting for their turn in front of the camera, students read on their own and with volunteers. Asked about her favorite books, Sydney, age 4, said, “Books about Curious George. He’s a monkey. He does bad things and gets in trouble.” Her classmate, Aidan, age 5, preferred Itchy Itchy Chicken Pox and stories about Llama Llama. 

On hand to help were a group of international undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University who had come up for a winter trip to NYC. Eager to add a service component to their trip, they joined in as talent wranglers, photographers and production assistants.  While students waited for their turn in front of the camera, they made new friends from Iraq, Columbia, Poland and elsewhere. When everyone had been photographed, the volunteers taught the classes how to say goodbye in their languages. Many thanks to our new friends at VCU!

P.S. 81

P.S. 81 Students Find New Friends at The Hackley School – VIDEO

Earlier this year, our students at P.S. 81 enjoyed a Saturday of arts, sports, music and fun with a group of fantastic ninth graders from The Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY. What started off as a volunteer opportunity for the Hackley students quickly turned into new friendships and an important relationship between two very different schools.

“I had such a great day at P.S. 81 because we were able to make the kids’ day that much better,” offered one Hackley student. “We didn’t just brighten their day, they made us laugh, too and helped us enjoy the day even more. Everybody taught the kids something and helped them to enjoy the idea of school which is an important part of their young lives.”

We can’t wait for the Hackley students to come back, and hope to replicate this relationship in our other partner schools. Click here to read more of the students’ reflections on their day at P.S. 81.

Check out this video of the day these students spent together:

Hackley Helps PS 81 Edit 2a from Change for Kids on Vimeo.

P.S. 81

What It Takes to Make the Grade at P.S. 81

We are thrilled to share the news that school grades are out and P.S. 81 received an A! Within their school network, P.S. 81 was one of only two schools to achieve that grade and, according to the network leader, it was a high A.

We are not at all surprised, of course. Under the leadership of the amazing Principal Cheryl Ault-Barker and the stellar team at P.S. 81, the school continues to reach for and achieve its goals.


Earlier this month, I had the chance to spend a morning with Principal Barker, talking with her about her school’s achievement and the challenges facing P.S. 81.

AH: What does an A mean for P.S. 81?

CAB: It means that we are growing, and that we are getting better. It also means that we will attract people who are willing to work.

AH: Explain how you and your team approach your goals.

CAB:  Data is the key and we understand that if we know where each child is we can better be able individualize [our response] to their needs and their goals. Sometimes you hear IEP [Individualized Education Plan] and you think, “Special Education,” but General Education students need individualized plans, too. And we try to foster that understanding in our teachers, get them to use the data to drive the instruction and meet the needs of each child.

What we do as an instructional team (and I say “we” because I am a part of that team) is to look at data—from tests or from any kind of assessment—by class, by grade, and highlight strengths and weaknesses. We compare our results with our teachers’ so that we make sure we are seeing all the information through the same lens.  If we see there is a trend across a grade, we try to have our teachers use each other as resources, visit other schools with a great program.  We are using the data to drive instruction and then making sure all hands are on deck to make things happen.


AH: Do you think it is harder for a school like P.S. 81, which educates children from five local shelters, to achieve this grade?

CAB: Yes. Every school has its challenges.  And this is ours. The population is very transient. We’re still accepting children, right now. And it doesn’t matter where they come from—Special Ed, English Language Learners—we have to take them. Because my school houses five shelters, once children are placed in the shelter in the neighborhood, I have to take them.

A lot of the local children go to the Charter Schools in October or September, but if they don’t measure up to the expectations, the charter schools are allowed to kick them out. Those students come here, too.

But what we’re striving for is access and high expectations.  You need to have high expectations for the children and give them the access and the tools that they need to compete and that’s what we do each and every day. We expose our teachers to the professional development that they need to become better at their craft so that they can better disseminate information to the children.

The people who are here love teaching. It’s not for the dollars.  Our teachers go above and beyond. Mentoring students, coming early, staying late, just to make sure that there is growth. Reaching out to families, visiting homes. We really do some things that are not average. They give their phone numbers to parents and families. I think that’s what really has helped us to grow and to become better—the dedication, the commitment, the collaboration. You will see these signs around our building, “Team Work Makes the Dream Work.” That’s really the truth. It’s a collaborative effort here, where we have conversations around what’s working, what’s not working and what we need to try next.


AH: What are some of the other major obstacles your teachers face?

CAB: Of course, parental involvement is big.  That’s the key, so we encourage our teachers to think outside the box. The parents are not involved with their children, so we are trying our best and we cannot give up. We do a lot of correspondence, communications, and invitations to events. We use food, and I have to say that. We get our agenda out first and we feed last. We celebrate the children a lot.  Parents will come out for the celebrations and we use those events as vehicles to get information and messages out to our parents.

AH: What struggles do you think your students’ parents face?

CAB: I asked—because I don’t live in this community—I asked some of the residents, especially those who are “successful” with their children: what do you do? What are some things that interest you in terms of helping your children to become better? And they say it is a mindset, it is generational, something their parents expected from them and that they want for their children.

What I find is that most of our parents are young. Most of them have not completed high school and forget about college. Many of them are single parents just trying to make it, so, I guess there is a little bit of intimidation. But there shouldn’t be.  We offer things on their level. We try to have parents come to school events with their children, so if there is that fear, they have their children as a safety net. The children are a vehicle to reach the parents, too. Once we excite and motivate the children, they take that excitement to their parents and say, “You have to come, you have to be there,” and it works.


AH: What is your favorite CFK program?

CAB: I don’t want to choose just one, but I love Story Pirates, because I have seen my writers grow. I am in there when the students are doing their drafts and their performances and I have seen their writing really develop. I have seen the strategies that the Story Pirates use and they really stretch the children’s writing.

This year, we asked that the Story Pirates demonstrate nonfiction writing so that’s the focus this year and it is helping, too.


AH: How can CFK help P.S. 81 get to where you want the school to be?

Continue and increase the support you are giving us, especially in the arts, with one-on-one tutoring and small group instruction. Nutrition is also key, because if the child is not healthy they are not able to perform.

Any other programs that will enhance learning for our students, for example chess or robotics or those extras we cannot afford. Just to continue what you are doing and grow it, we’d be grateful. We are grateful, we truly are.

When I finished my conversation with Principal Barker, she asked that we invite  everyone on Team 81 to come visit. She is eager to share the school with you.