CFK in the News

Executive Director Colin Smith reflects on 8-year tenure at Change for Kids

You have been the Executive Director at Change for Kids since 2009. What was your first year like?

Tough, Colin-Smith_1 (1)but surprisingly fun. Raising money in 2009, during the heart of the Great Recession, was difficult to say the least. We were essentially building a donor base from scratch at a time when everyone was seeing their disposable income and wealth collapse – particularly in NYC. They were looking for ways to cut donations, the needs at our partner schools were getting even more challenging, and we had minimal infrastructure in place to address either challenge. Three things made it “surprisingly fun.” First, starting over allowed us to rethink every aspect of the organization. Second, we could envision a brighter future and I think people were really looking for that brightness in those pretty dark days. And third, the sheer extent of the challenge made the small group that signed on (for the Board, Junior Council, and staff) as tight as any team I’ve been a part of. The staff at the time were two folks, both of whom were some of my favorite co-workers: Mike Quinzio, a great friend from college; and my little sister, Caitlin (it doesn’t get much more grassroots than that). We had a blast together every day. It felt like we were all in this together, working toward a crazy, ambitious goal. I’m proud that those ethos have been maintained ever since.

What are you most proud of accomplishing as Executive Director?

That’s hard. I’m proud of all of the last 8 years – not only he good times, but how we’ve responded to a lot of times when we were on the ropes. But if I’m forced to pick one, it’s Super Chefs 2015. That year, we brought our annual gala to a new level. We were closing in on ten schools- it seemed as though the organization was light-years ahead if where it had been, even just the year before.  We hosted 600+ supporters and the night was capped off with a speech by an amazing student, Leonard, who sparked tears of joy from an inspired crowd as he talked eloquently about the impact we had made in his life. Then and there I saw just how far Change for Kids had come over the years. The picture of Leonard, his principal and I at the event still adorns my office as my single fondest CFK memory.

Kids say the darndest things. Tell us about one of your favorite moments with a student or group of students.

It’s hard to beat one of my first experiences with Change for Kids, almost ten years ago. I had just joined the Junior Council and volunteered to chaperone a field trip to the Central Park Zoo. When I hopped on the bus from the school to the Zoo, I noticed one student sitting by himself and staring off to the distance outside of his window. I sat next to him and struggled to chat with him on the ride down. It turns out he was in the special education program and had a particularly difficult time socially. When we arrived at the Zoo, my primary job was to keep up with that particular student for the entire trip. The task severely stretched my limited fitness. He darted around the Zoo, pointing out different animals and asking me 100 questions along every stop in our obstacle course. When the trip ended, I rode back with him and didn’t feel like either of us paused our conversation for a breath. The next week, I received a letter from the student’s teacher saying that she had never seen him more engaged in school (and happier) than in the days following that trip. I was hooked from that point on.

What advice would you give the incoming Executive Director?

Bring your A game because we have a staff, Board, principals and supporters who don’t miss a beat. We just held our April Board meeting, focused on next year’s strategic goals, and the depth of the engagement and conversation was inspiring. Our team wants to do big things, and it has the horsepower to achieve those goals. I feel the same when I speak with sponsors, pushing for their next volunteer activity; or schools, driving us to provide greater service. Our community is an impressive collection of talent and drive. Enjoy it because that’s a real, and unique, privilege.

What’s next for you after CFK?

First, I never want there to be an “after CFK.” I’m planning on taking a different leadership role here, but this place will always be a central passion in my life. I see us becoming a national organization, helping hundreds of thousands of students. And I want to do my part in the years ahead to help make that happen. But to directly answer the question… I want to make the largest impact I can. What that looks like next is TBD. I’m looking forward to exploring industries and opportunities where I feel like I can leverage my time and leadership to make a difference – whether that’s a for-profit, nonprofit or in public service. This is an exciting time for my wife and me as we look to our next chapter.

#WhyCFK

Thank You, Teachers!

Teachers at Change for Kids partner schools go above and beyond…

By encouraging critical thinking in students:

Strive for student engagement

By putting in the extra hours after school for awesome family engagement events- like Books and Pajamas Night:

The teachers who put in the extra hours

By exposing students to new activities and experiences:

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By creating a welcoming environment with creative decorations:

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By ensuring that lessons are interactive and hands-on:

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By creating a love for literacy:

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By fostering creativity in students:

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And lastly, by creating lifelong learners.

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Thank you teachers

#WhyCFK, CFK Program Partners

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!

CFK Program Partners, P.S. 142

Change for Kids Program Partner Highlight: Third Street Music Settlement

At P.S. 142’s most recent music showcase, 3rd-5th graders showed off their newfound skills in West African drumming and the recorder. Families (and selfie sticks) packed the auditorium and proudly watched their little musicians perform.

While the memories captured by the selfie sticks will be a nice family keepsake 10 years from now, the value of music and arts education for these students 10 years from now is infinite.

Research shows that music education and arts education boosts attendance, academic achievement, and graduation rates; increases self-confidence and even promotes lifelong engagement with the arts.

Understanding the importance of such programming, CFK partner principals consistently identify music and arts as a need for their students. That’s #WhyCFK partners with Third Street Music Settlement—to meet that need.

Third Street Music Settlement is the nation’s longest-running community music school and offers guitar, percussion, dance and chorus classes at four Change for Kids partner schools. The Assistant Director of Third Street Partners, James Hall says a highlight of the Change for Kids and Third Street Settlement partnership is CFK’s holistic approach to serving schools.

“It’s not about providing one stand-alone service. It’s about a constellation of literacy, health, and arts programs working with school principals to address their students’ needs,” Hall says.

“This allows Third Street to do what it does best: provide quality music and dance instruction.”

We’re thrilled to work with this fantastic partner to ensure all our students have access to music education!

Check out how P.S. 142 students rocked the music showcase below.

Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School

#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.

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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.

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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!

Brighter Choice Community School, CFK Volunteers

Volunteer Spotlight: TEAK Fellowship and The Virginia Club of New York Bring Brighter Choice Community School’s Motto to Life

When you walk into Change for Kids partner school Brighter Choice Community School, the college theme is hard to miss. Bulletin boards are decked out with college flags, graduation garb, and feature interviews with teachers about their alma maters. Each classroom is named after a college and students are always encouraged by staff that they can achieve anything.

That’s because every child, every day, is college bound at Brighter Choice Community School.

This past weekend, Change for Kids hosted the first school beautification day at Brighter Choice with some incredible volunteers from the TEAK Fellowship and The Virginia Club of New York. Volunteers spent Saturday morning painting canvases with college logos to hang outside the classroom doors and represent each class.

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A TEAK fellow kicks off the project by carefully painting a graduation cap

The TEAK Fellowship, a program that helps talented students from low-income families achieve their potential, has volunteered with CFK for the past two years for an annual service day for mentors and fellows. Vanessa Greer, TEAK’s Director of  College Success, said school beautification days give TEAK fellows the opportunity to give back to neighborhoods they may have grown up in. (One TEAK fellow who volunteered grew up a few blocks from Brighter Choice!)

Greer mentioned that supporting public schools is important and aligns with TEAK’s goals. She said she hopes that this project will show Brighter Choice students that so many people support them, even outside the school community.

“The school space is really important to feel part of a community and feel safe and loved,” Greer said.

“It means a lot [for a student] to go to school and see beautiful paintings and feel like [he or she] belongs there.”

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Vanessa Greer, TEAK Director of College Success, (right) with TEAK volunteers

The Virginia Club of New York, an alumni association for the University of Virginia, is also a returning CFK volunteer group. The canvases were actually sketched and designed by Lorna Zhen, a board member at the Virginia Club of New York and CFK muralist extraordinaire! The Virginia Club volunteers saw the school beautification day as an opportunity to inspire Brighter Choice students to go to college. (University of Virginia, maybe?!)

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Members from the Virginia Club painting the morning away!

Thank you, TEAK Fellowship and The Virginia Club of New York, for bringing Brighter Choice Community School’s motto to life in each classroom!

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Final product for every classroom! The two PreK classes will get canvases representing their class names- the Butterflies and Bumble Bees.

 

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#WhyCFK, CFK Volunteers

How to Support New York City Public Schools

All children deserve to go to quality public schools. Unfortunately, many NYC public schools in low-income communities cannot provide their students with the resources that support achievement. These schools don’t have the budget to match their needs. In more affluent communities, a school’s parent association is often able to bridge this gap by raising $100,000 or more in a given year.

Change for Kids partners with incredible elementary schools throughout NYC—93% of the students enrolled in our partner schools live in poverty. Our partner principals work tirelessly to provide a quality education for our students, but there are still gaps to fill.  Here’s how you can help.

Volunteer at a Change for Kids partner school. You’ll expose students to a new, engaging opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t be possible without volunteer support. Change for Kids offers a variety of volunteer opportunities – from weekdays, weeknights to weekends – at our partner schools throughout NYC. Activities include school beautification days, field days, career days, guest reading to a classroom and more!

Donate essential items. Do you have children’s books, games or clothing that your family no longer uses? Change for Kids will find the best use for your item, whether it’s a board game or a winter coat, by matching the item with the appropriate school in need.

Donate money. Want to make a difference, but don’t have enough time in the day to volunteer? You can donate to Change for Kids to invest in our public schools and the future of New York City. Your donation will support essential programming that boosts academic achievement such as music, art, fitness and nutrition education—the programs that are often cut first when a school’s budget shrinks.

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