Why Reading Matters By The End Of Third Grade

Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a critical marker in a child’s educational development. Until third grade, children learn to read, but after third grade they read to learn. Children who enter fourth grade without reading proficiency are more likely to dropout of high school, reducing their earnings potential and chances for success.* This risk is greatest for students in low-income communities where schools often cannot provide the resources needed to prepare their students for success.

75% of children who struggle with reading in the 3rd grade will never catch up to their peers unless they get the help they need in elementary school.

That’s why CFK aims to make an impact in reading proficiency early in a child’s educational career. Change for Kids provides programs, tutoring and other resources to aid in building competent readers.

Through our programs Guest Reader and Reading Buddies, children have the opportunity to hear a story from our volunteers and corporate partners. These activities are special, engage students in literacy, and often leave the children asking when they will see their guest reader again!


*Annie E Casey Foundation

Third Grade Students Destined for the New York Times Bestseller List

Hundreds of Change for Kids students this year had the opportunity this school year to participate in Story Pirates workshops where they let their imaginations run wild. Change for Kids partners with Story Pirates to promote creativity at our partner schools. Story Pirates hosts a series of creative writing workshops, where students learn that there are no bad ideas! After students finish their works of art, the Story Pirates bring to life select stories by acting them out at an all-school wide assembly. Change for Kids volunteers also read the students’ work and provide them with positive, hand-written feedback–aka a lil’ bit of “Story Love.”

Now meet the up-and-coming New York Times bestseller authors!

The Walking Pizza Who Became a Robot

“Once there was a pizza walking in the woods. Then a mean wizard turned him into a robot. Then he saw his body and it was metal. When he was a robot he named himself Robot Pizza Star. Then he loved being a robot.”

Looks like one happy piece of pizza!

Robot Pizza

Scarm the Alien (Who, By the Way, Loves Chess)

“Once an alien time there was a kid alien named Scarm. He liked to play chess, strategist, play with its horns, to wiggle its tentacles, and learn new things. Scarm lives on a planet called Tar. One day when Scarm was digging, some humans were investigating planet Tar. He was very scared of the humans. He thought they came from the sun. But the humans had sleeping darts. Scarm started to dig faster. Scarm was 5 yards away from getting to the core of Planet Tar. Then a loud sound went, “pew, pew, pew, pew!”

Scarm was frightened. The humans got closer and closer. Scarm had stumbled in his hole. Scarm tried to gather all of his chess pieces, but it was too late. When Scarm woke up he had been glued to paper. The people asked, “Who are you alien?” Scarm replied in an alien way, “squigily, squiggly, X doo.” The humans did not understand.

What do you think happens next? (We hope they became friends and played chess together.)

Scarm the alien

The Carrot Who Has Banana Arms, an Orange Head, and Eight Eyes and Plays Soccer

“Once there was a carrot named Mr. B.J. He has banana arms and an orange head. He also has eight eyes. He likes to play soccer with the team he made up. But one time he accidentally ate his arm when he was playing. He said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh! I can’t believe I ate my arm! Ahhhhhh! My arm really burns!” So he said, “I’m going to go to the doctor.”  Once he got there they were out of banana arms, so they went to the forest to get some. Unfortunately there were no banana arms in the forest. So they had to get plum arms. But plums don’t grow in carrot land, so they had to go to plum land. But the plum arms didn’t fit.”

How do you think Mr. B.J. solved the banana arm problem?

Mr. B.T.

We don’t know about you, but we’d love to meet these characters in real life!

#WTHack2017 at Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School

Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School, a Change for Kids partner school, hosted the first-ever elementary/middle school Hackathon in District 23- the local school district that encompasses Brownsville. What The is a Hackathon, you ask?

#WTHack2017 brought scholars and parents from all over Brownsville to Brooklyn Landmark for full Saturday of coding, critical thinking, discovery and fun.

Lydia Smith, the parent coordinator at Brooklyn Landmark, spearheaded the event to show students that no matter where they come from, they can create their own futures through coding and technology.

Notably, there is a lack of diversity in STEM-related fields in the U.S. It’s increasingly important to get students from underrepresented communities interested in coding and technology even as early as 1st grade.

The task of the day required students to develop with an application that could solve a problem in Brownsville through innovation and entrepreneurship. Every scholar had the opportunity to sit and try a new platform – Scratch Jr. and MIT App Inventor – and learn about entrepreneurship.

Once the projects were completed, the scholars presented their projects on stage to a panel of three judges – a Brooklyn Landmark parent who works in the foundations department at Verizon, a high school student who works on coding projects with ScriptEd, and a District 23 representative.

Scholars present their project to the panel of judges

Some of the incredibly innovative projects included:

  • A digital advertisement for a pool, made by a team of students from 1st to 3rd grade, to show that “Brownsville is a good place to be and lots of fun.”
  • A digital representation of how parks are in Brownsville look now and how they could be improved.
  • A tutoring app to helps students with math.
  • An app that shows users where different forms of art are- aka the “cool things in Brownsville.”
  • “Brownsville’s Little Taskers”– a community-based app to provide transportation to events and help community members (especially the elderly) with every day errands. The app also remind users about educational and recreational opportunities.

While the judges were beyond impressed with all these creative projects, there can only be one winner! And then winner is….

The two 4th grade scholars who developed “Brownsville Trading” – an app that allows people to trade items they don’t want any more for an item they need.

Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School Parent Coordinator Lydia Smith with the Hackathon Winners- two 4th grade students

Listen to the brilliant developers discuss their app and their experience at the Hackathon!

Scholars left the Hackathon with newfound skills and a passion for coding. But what’s just as important as the experience?

The understanding that anything is possible.

Congratulations to Brooklyn Landmark for hosting such a fabulous event with collaboration from Change for Kids School Manager Zareta Ricks, Digital Girl Inc., ScriptEd, and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship!

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 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.

From Playing Video Games to Making Them, Meet Jubi from P.S. 15 – VIDEO

“My name is Jubahed (Jubi for short) and I’m ten years old in fifth grade at P.S. 15…. I am really excited to go to the computer camp!”

Thanks to a generous donation, Jubi will be attending idTech Camp at Columbia University this summer. For Jubi, playing video games wasn’t enough–he wanted to make his own. He’s tried by himself and in school, but with a summer at idTech Camp, Jubi will be able to learn the programs he needs to make the games he loves.

I spoke with Jubi about his favorite kinds of games and his plans for camp. Following the interview, Jubi will take you on a tour of one of his games. We can’t wait to see what Jubi creates next!

AH: How did you get interested in computers?

JQ: Well, it all started when I was six. My brother found out about video games so after he finished his homework he would start playing them. They looked fun, so I tried them. Later, I was looking on the Internet about creating games. I was super interested in that so I tried it at home. I thought it was really amazing–I guess that’s why I wanted to learn more about computers

AH:What kind of games do you like the best?

JQ: I like RPG-style games, but I don’t always have free time, so when I do that’s what I like to play. I have a pretty decent amount of homework.

AH: What is an RPG, for someone who doesn’t know?

JQ: An RPG game is a role-playing game, so you are a character in the game and there are usually monsters in it. For instance, there’s Pokemon–and depending on your choices, the game changes.

AH: What are you hoping to do this summer at idTech Camp?

JQ: I’m hoping to create my own RPG game.  I’ve tried it before but I didn’t think what I made was good. I didn’t know how to use the program–RPG Maker–that well, but I am hoping to learn how to use it better.

AH: Do you have some ideas for characters you’d like to put in your game?

JQ: Not yet, but I was thinking of making a game similar to Pokemon, with monsters. I think the best part of playing games is defeating someone who is evil at the end of the game.  I was thinking I would start off in a little town, in the character’s room. But maybe then something bad happens.

AH: And then you have to be the hero in the game?

JQ: Yeah.

In this video, Jubi walks you through a game he created at school.

Jubi Explains His Video Game Design from Change for Kids on Vimeo.

P.S. 15 Plants a New Program

At P.S. 15, teachers, PTA and CFK are sowing seeds for a new program for next spring: a recess garden club. The club is the brainchild of second grade teacher Sarah Strong, Kindergarten teacher Ashley Mendolina, and two amazing PTA members. They hope to build a garden, designed and cultivated by students. Teachers would be able to tie science lessons into club time, bringing learning out of the classroom and into the real world.  And vegetables, fruit and herbs grown right at P.S. 15 become the edible tools of nutrition education.


“I was super excited when Laura, the literacy coach, told me that the school was thinking about starting up the garden club,” said Alyxe Lett, our School Manager at P.S. 15. “My Peace Corps experience included a lot of hands-on work around environmental conservation, including composting and creating gardens with recyclable materials, so I really wanted to help out anyway that I could.”

Ms. Strong and Ms. Mendolina are working with Alyxe to research and write a grant for supplies. We are particularly excited to support their efforts as it overlaps with a new initiative at CFK–to help our partner schools grow their ability to write grants so we can bring in more resources to the school together.

“I’m just so blown away by the passion that these two teachers and the two PTA members have for creating something that would not only be of academic benefit to the students, but also get them to think critically and analyze how their community and surroundings (and daily life!) are an integral part of a greater ecological system,” said Alyxe.

Once the garden club is up and running it will serve 15-20 students, and we’ll be looking for volunteers to come help out. So be ready to get your hands dirty in the spring of 2014!

Running for Change

Our runners couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to run the ING New York City Marathon on November 3—cool temperatures, partly sunny, not too much wind. We couldn’t have asked for a better team, some of whom have been holding out since last year to run for Change for Kids. Our thanks to Maureen Ford, Pat Daly, Suraj Patel, Viral Patel, Courtney Raneri, Brad Zanoni, Ken Davidoff and Alex Porter. Together, these athletes have raised more than $25,000 for the students in our partner schools.

At the end of their run, several teammates toasted their triumph.  As you can see, they make running 26.2 miles and raising $25k look easy!

Two medalists, Courtney Raneri and Brad Zanoni

New Faces at P.S. 81

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 Rickszareta:
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!