The Children's Aid Blog

How Children’s Aid is Combatting Chronic Absence

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Every September, schools across the nation—and the human service organizations that work with students—recognize Attendance Awareness Month. Mounting evidence confirms that consistent attendance is fundamental to academic learning—and anything less can be devastating to long-term achievement. At Children’s Aid, we have made #SchoolEveryDay a core component of our work.

Verónica Cuéllar, the data manager for South Bronx Rising Together, a collaborative community initiative co-founded by Children’s Aid, has been focused on chronic absence. She explains why battling chronic absence is a responsibility the entire organization must shoulder: 

Before I started working for South Bronx Rising Together (SBRT), I knew nothing about chronic absence. I have since become a more informed advocate in the work many of our school staff are doing to help reduce chronic absenteeism. As children in our services start to head back to school, now is an important time to discuss how chronic absence acts as one of the biggest barriers to their learning.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more days of school in a given school year, which at minimum translates into 18 days of lost classroom instruction. Nationally 6.5 million students—roughly 13 percent of school-aged children—are chronically absent, but children living in low-income neighborhoods are four times more likely than their better-off peers to be chronically absent.

In New York City, that means 1 in 4 students are chronically absent; and in Bronx Community District 3, the geographic focus of SBRT's work, almost 2 in 5 students are chronically absent. These patterns hold long-term repercussions. High rates of school absence, which includes both excused and unexcused absences, predict lower levels of proficiency in mathematics and English language arts standards, and lead to a higher likelihood that a student will not graduate high school, or pursue a college degree.

Student attendance is a multifaceted issue—one that engages all of the corners of our services. Through my work with SBRT, I’ve heard firsthand the narratives of why students are chronically absent in Community District 3. Asthma and other health issues, family appointments, sibling absences, involvement in the child welfare system, and transportation issues are often reasons why students are chronically absent. Some of these issues are simply beyond the reach of school staff. These factors are just as dangerously effective at working against children living in the Washington Heights, Harlem, and Staten Island communities we work in.

At Children’s Aid, we are coming together as an organization to build a collective strategy to help address chronic absenteeism. Every day, we engage with children and families with the hopes of improving their lives. Our goal is to understand what the reasons are for each family that is struggling to get their kids to school consistently. It works. Improved attendance in previously chronically absent students often results from positive engagement of students and parents in schools.

We cannot succeed if we do not give them all the tools they need to achieve, and in our society these tools are acquired through education. By ensuring that students are present in school every day, we increase their likelihood of achieving academic success, and we increase their likelihood of graduating high school, stepping up to higher education, and realizing their fullest potential.

 

Veronica Cuéllar, data manager for South Bronx Rising Together

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AileyCamp: Unity Through Art

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For the 26 years prior, the young people of AileyCamp have been able to deliver a powerful message about what is possible when kids have opportunity and the guiding presence of deeply invested teachers and mentors. This year, that message took on a new dimension.

The theme was “Unity,” and it continues to resonate given the turmoil felt across the country in the days following. After just six weeks of preparation—and the bonding and friendship that can result when a group embraces an objective—more than 100 youth put on an electrifying show that evoked love and commitment. It was exactly what we need right when we need it.

 

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Hot Days, Cool Books on Staten Island

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Reading is a mainstay throughout all of our summer camps. It gives kids a chance to slow down amidst a full day of recreation, gardening, creative arts, and the overall summer buzz.

More importantly, though, it keeps kids’ minds in gear and helps them avoid the phenomenon of the summer learning loss. Each of the nearly 3,000 kids in our camps reads anywhere from 90 to 180 minutes a week each day. Local officials on Staten Island join us at Goodhue every year to celebrate this component of our work with our younger campers.

This year, we were joined by Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, New York State Assembly Member Matthew Titone, and several other representatives from state and city government. They treated kids to some classic musical tales including Zin! Zin! Zin!, a Violin, I Know Who Swallowed a Cello, Dooby Dooby Moo, and Max Found Two Sticks

Many thanks to the leaders for their dedication.

 

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A Pool of Opportunity in Harlem

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In Harlem, home to nearly 80,000 children and youth alone, there are fewer than a dozen public pools run by the New York City Parks Department, where kids can practice their cannon balls, tread water in the deep end, or just cool off during the summer months. However, the majority of these pools are outdoors, leaving children in our communities without many swimming options beyond Labor Day. It makes indoor pools, like the one at the Dunlevy Milbank Center, all the more important.

In addition to the intensive swim program during the Children’s Aid summer camp season, Milbank’s Olympic-sized pool has been home to the Stingrays since 2005. The swim program, which practices in the evenings during the regular school year, is comprised of over 60 kids, ages 6-18—the majority of whom are African-American and Latino and had never entered a pool before learning to swim at Milbank.

According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Latino children have no or low swimming ability—a result of the decades of racial and economic discrimination that prevented these communities from accessing public swimming facilities. The impact is perhaps most visible at the competitive swimming level, which only saw boundaries broken by Simone Manuel during the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio as the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming. Manuel’s win highlighted the importance for children of color to see themselves represented in the sport. 

Members of the Stingrays are often the only African-American and Latino children at their swim competitions. Yet, it hasn’t stopped the young swimmers from outperforming their competitors. As part of USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, the team collectively competes in meets across the New York area through the Metropolitan Swimming League. Five members of the Stingrays made it to the league’s regional junior Olympics in July 2016. Their success speaks to the rigorous swim instruction the team receives at Milbank, under the guidance of Coach Miguel Escalante. It also speaks to the talent and hard work in the children.

Morgon, 9, has been swimming since he was 4 years old. Both he and his sister Madison, 11, learned how to swim at Milbank. Their mothers, Trenise and Tawanda, signed them both up for lessons at the center to ensure that their children would feel safe and confident in large bodies of water. The decision turned the family into one of the program’s most involved swim families and has resulted in the children taking home many medals and trophies over the years from competitions. Morgon, in particular, has his eyes set on the Olympics at some point in his future, and Stingrays Coach Miguel believes he can get there. The young swimmer dominates in events like the 500-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke, and the 100-meter butterfly.

“The kids have made great strides and focus really hard in practice to execute their techniques at swim meets,” said Tawanda.

The family has also seen firsthand the positive impact that swimming can have on children; the sport has helped Madison with her sensory issues and Morgon adjust to Tourette’s syndrome, allowing both children to find a sense of tranquility when they are in the water. And of course, the children have found support outside of the water from their teammates.

The simple truth is that many children in New York City never learn to swim because they have very few opportunities to outside of the summer months. It’s what continues to perpetuate the swimming trends that have long defined African-American and Latino communities. Yet the Stingrays swim program shows that reversing these trends is not only possible, but it provides children with an invaluable life skill that keeps them safe in the water and equips them with confidence that can open up a world of opportunity for them outside of it too.

Interested in the Stingrays’ journey to the 2016 Junior Olympics? Read A Force in the Pool.

Children’s Aid Celebrates High School Graduates

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Graduation season is in full swing at Children’s Aid. In addition to the stepping up ceremonies at our early childhood centers and the middle and high school ceremonies across our community schools, we also recognize the individuals who had to overcome some additional hurdles to obtain their diplomas.

Last week the Next Generation Center (NGC) in the Bronx hosted a graduation ceremony for 30 individuals who earned their high school equivalency degree (formerly known as the GED) over the past year through two separate programs.

Twelve young people earned their degree through the NGC Education track, a Children’s Aid program run entirely through the center which serves youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; the remaining students earned the degree through the Department of Education’s Pathways to Graduation program. While it takes most people two to three tries to pass the exam—which crams the entire four years of high school curriculum into one sitting—the majority of participants at NGC passed it on their first try.

They were able to do so with the commitment and leadership of Angel Romero, who heads NGC Education, and the support of the entire staff at the center who form familial ties with participants.

Many of the students made the decision to finish their high school degree despite facing life obstacles that didn’t make it easy—homelessness, foster care, or learning English as a second language. Valedictorian Ariana Navarro completed her degree in addition to raising two toddlers and working in the Next Generation Center catering program. She plans to continue her post-secondary education and study forensic science; her peers share her drive and diligence.

President and CEO Phoebe Boyer provided remarks at the event that recognized the graduates and their fortitude. “Despite all of the reasons that might have persuaded you to quit, you made the decision to strive for your equivalency degree,” she said. “Through sheer determination, perseverance, and focus, you stood up to the challenges you faced—and you won.”

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A Drug- and Alcohol-Free Summer for Teens

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Yesterday was the last day of school. And young people all over NYC are getting ready to enjoy the freedom of summer vacation. Unfortunately, as school-year stress melts away, accountability, structure, supervision, stimulation, focus, and even brain cells soften due to inactivity.

Research has shown that more young people experiment with drugs and alcohol in June and July than at any other time of the year.

According to research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 11,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 use alcohol for the first time on an average day in June or July.

So what can you do to help your teen avoid experimenting with substances during the summer? Here are a few tips that might help.

  1. Talk to your teen about the dangers of substance abuse: Research shows that parents can have a tremendous impact on their children, even though it may not seem like it.
     
  2. Help your teen avoid boredom: Encourage your teen to volunteer at a local shelter, community center, child camp, nursing home, or some other organization. Help them get a job lifeguarding, babysitting, or even working at a local grocery store.
     
  3. Make the most of your time off. When you don’t have to work, schedule activities that involve all family members. Teens and preteens who regularly spend time with family are less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

Parents are not helpless bystanders during this high-risk time. They’re the first line of defense when it comes to reducing the chances that their teens will drink or use other substances. To learn more www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking.

For more information, contact Ronni Katz, Sarah Redfield, or Venus Moore at the NYC Prevention Resource Center.

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June is Fruit and Vegetable Month!

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At Children’s Aid, we are always excited when the summer starts. School ends, camps begin, and fresh fruits and veggies are abundant!

At Children’s Aid we believe that good nutrition and healthy habits are taught by example. By providing families with a chance to learn more about the preparation and storage of fruits and vegetables, we are supporting the entire household in creating an environment that can then support a child’s healthy habits at home. Our Go!Healthy program is gearing up this summer to offer two great opportunities to connect our families to fresh fruits and veggies and build community through recipes and knowledge throughout the summer and fall.

In select community centers and community schools, Go!Healthy will offer Farmers’ Market Walks where nutritionists will lead community members to the nearest market. Health Bucks coupons—$2 vouchers for locally-grown fruit and vegetables—will be given out to community members to shop. Did you know that EBT can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market? EBT is accepted at all farmers’ markets in NYC and comes with a bonus: for every $5 a family spends with their EBT card, an additional $2 in Health Bucks will be given by the market. That’s $7 worth of produce for only $5. Join the walks and get all the perks.

Go!Healthy will be offering a Food Box program at C.S. 211 Whitney Young Campus and Bronx Family Center in the Bronx, Goodhue Center in Staten Island, and  Milbank Center in Harlem. Every week at the Food Box, families, staff, and friends can purchase a big bag of fresh fruits and vegetables for only $10. All the food boxes are designed with a suggested seasonal recipe in mind, which we will also demonstrate at the distribution to taste All forms of payment are accepted one week ahead of delivery, including cash, credit/debit, EBT, and Health Bucks coupons.

The Go!Healthy Farmers’ Market Walks and Go!Healthy Food Box program can support families in bringing home a huge bounty of farm-fresh food throughout the summer and fall. Both of these programs will start the week of July 10 across all sites and run through Thanksgiving. If you would like more information regarding Farmers’ Market Walks, please contact Kathleen Delgado, kdelgado1@childrensaidsociety.org. If you would like more information about the Food Box program, please contact, Beth Bainbridge, bbainbridge@childrensaidsociety.org

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Scholarship Week: Scaling Greater Heights

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The middle of June is a special time around the Adolescence Division at Children’s Aid. Our high school seniors are graduating, and nearly 90 percent of them have been accepted to at least one college or university.

A few dozen have scaled even greater heights by winning scholarships through their participation in Children’s Aid programs. We celebrate their amazing accomplishments each year around this time.

Scholarship week tips off with the annual Stern Scholarship Luncheon. This year, nine young people will start college in the fall with generous assistance from the Stern family.

Those nine joined two dozen other recent graduates for the 2017 Scholarship Awards Ceremony—a full representation of all the young men and women who won Children’s Aid-sponsored scholarships. In addition to the Stern family’s series of scholarships, we are incredibly thankful to the following organizations and families for their commitment to higher education and the futures of promising scholars: the Garden of Dreams Foundation (whose four-year renewable Inspire Scholarships are worth $40,000 each); Peter and Susan Friedes; David Poritzky and his daughter, Sophie, in memoriam for her mother, Audrey Miller Poritzky; the Lucille Werlinich Scholarship; Tom Dyja and Suzanne Gluck; the family of Richard R. Dieterle; and the Irving Zarember estate.

Our president and CEO, Phoebe Boyer, after thanking everyone who had a hand in the past and future success of these young people, reminded everyone how important their success was to our mission of helping children, youth, and family every step of the way. “You’re living proof that what we do matters,” she said. “Whether you know it or not, you are feeding our fire—encouraging us to see the promise in all the children, youth, and families we work with. The example you set, the goals you achieve, are what make us so eager to come to work every day. I think I speak for all of Children’s Aid when I say we can’t thank you enough.”

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C.S. 61 Pays Tribute to the Bronx

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The school year is coming to an end and so are our after-school programs. The community school team at C.S. 61 recently hosted “Bronx Pride: A Celebration of Bronx History,” a performance that paid tribute to their home borough and took parents, families, and school staff in the audience along with its participants through a historical tour of Bronx history and culture.  From the birth of hip-hop to the influences of Puerto Rican and Dominican culture, those in attendance learned about the heritage of creativity that has been and will continue to be cultivated in the Bronx.

The innate talent of the young student dancers was supported by theater instructor Pablo Torres and dance instructor Ryan Marrero, who worked together to create the theme of the performance. Staff members Frances Garcia and Savita Narrain created the set design, which featured graffiti and recreated the 2 and 5 train lines running within the Bronx. Overall, many congratulations are due to the entire C.S. 61 community school team for putting on a great performance and for supporting the students throughout the year during after-school.

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P.O.W.E.R. Program Hosts 3rd Annual Prevention Fair

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On Saturday, June 3, the Children’s Aid Providing Opportunities, Wellness, Education, and Resources (P.O.W.E.R) Program held its 3rd annual Prevention Fair at the Frederick Douglass Center. Over 150 community members attended the fair, which aimed to provide the West Harlem community with information about the health and social services available in their neighborhood.

More than a dozen organizations and health care providers inside the center, along with the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Roosevelt Health Screening RV parked in front of the center, offered health screenings, fire safety education, healthy eating and food resources, and job training workshops. The New York City Department of Health also offered a wide array of services, and community members learned about the various programs for youth and adults offered by Children’s Aid and other Harlem organizations.

There were also activities such as a bouncy house, face painting, games, skateboard lessons and demonstrations, a basketball shooting contest, popcorn, cotton candy, and ices. The P.O.W.E.R. Program also raffled off skateboards, toothbrushes, and toothpaste to attendees.

This was the first year that the P.O.W.E.R program held its prevention fair at the Frederick Douglass Center, and not only do they look forward to returning there next year, but the community does as well. As one grandparent in attendance said, “This is a beautiful event for the community and our kids. I hope you return to do this again.”

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