The Children's Aid Blog

Building Strong Foundations in STEM

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Taryn was excited when she first learned that she would be playing with Legos in her after-school program at the Dunlevy Milbank Center. Her grandmother introduced her to the building blocks when she was a few years younger. So when given the choice of a role in the program, the 11-year-old knew right away she wanted to build.

Shelby, 12, was more intrigued in working behind a laptop. She was a newcomer to programming, but her talents were clearly demonstrated in writing code that would bring Taryn’s construction to life. Over the last seven months, Shelby, Taryn, and four other girls combined their researching, programming, and constructing talents to create a robot that could push, grab, and pull.

While girls and women are largely underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) classes and professions, at Milbank they form the majority. Under the guidance of the center’s technology director, Deja Flynn, the all-girl junior engineering team became Milbotics. At its intersection was the community center in Harlem and an immeasurable result of its after-school enrichment program: kids aged 9-13 creating long-term connections to STEM.

“Once a week we all switched off,” Shelby said of the program’s structure. Deja had the girls rotate between the research and technical roles. It was a strategy that not only gave them a well-rounded experience, but also strengthened their problem-solving skills.

“There is really no training you could get more than just diving in and trying for yourself,” said Deja.

And it is a strategy that holds true regardless of experience and expertise. The league’s robot model had changed since Deja last worked on the project, but the instructor used every new obstacle she faced as a teaching moment for her girls. “They had no idea I was figuring it out along with them,” she said.

There were long hours and some disagreements over the course of the program, but the girls honed their engineering skills. Milbotics built three robots over the course of the program and tackled an up-cycling milk carton project at the community center. In the end, they successfully designed, built, and programmed a robot that performed all the necessary movements that would get them through the Trash Trek challenge during the FIRST Lego League Competitions.

Milbotics placed third in a qualifying round of the competition—a win that propelled them forward to the regional championships.

“There were so many people,” Taryn said of the championships. Teams and supporters from across New York City packed the Jacob Javits Center.

The crowd alone would have been overwhelming, but because coaches were not allowed on the competition floor, Milbotics found that they had to tackle the robotics challenge on their own.

Their robot malfunctioned during the championships, but Shelby said she kept one of the league core values in mind. She found a reason to smile and enjoy the moment with her team.  “I just wanted to have fun,” she said.

It didn’t go unnoticed. Milbotics not only placed 27th out of more than 80 other teams, but they also took home an award for great demonstration of the FIRST Lego league Core Values. Their coach was more than proud of them.

“It was exciting to watch them grow over the past few months,” said Deja. “I’m so happy I have a few more years to work with them and build on what we did this year.”

The girls have also begun planning to top their accomplishments. In returning to the strategizing board, Taryn had one critical requirement for a future Milbotics project. The next robot they build must be a girl.


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Little Steps, Huge Leaps

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Parents whose children attend our Early Childhood programs appreciate how excited and prepared they are for kindergarten. Just ask Tatiana Henderson.

Gavin was her second child to attend The Children’s Aid Society’s Richmond Early Learning Center in Staten Island. For three years, the staff nurtured Gavin’s curiosity, provided encouragement, and created an environment for exploration and learning.

“Gavin loves kindergarten,” said Tatiana. “After just a few days of school, I could already see he was comfortable in the classroom.” Tatiana credits the Richmond staff for Gavin’s successful transition. Gavin’s success is built on the foundation of Tools of the Mind, the curriculum used throughout the Early Childhood Division.

The curriculum intentionally utilizes creative play to develop each child’s memory, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills. And most importantly, Tools of the Mind promotes healthy social-emotional development, while also incorporating literacy, math, and science.

“We had Gavin tested for the gifted and talented program and he scored in the 95th percentile,” said Tatiana. “I recommend this program to other families all the time.”

Click here to learn more about our Early Childhood programs.

Associates Council Announces Raffle for Spring Fundraiser: Smile Brighter

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This year, the Associates Council of The Children’s Aid Society identified dental services— a core component of health services provided at Children’s Aid school-based health centers (SBHC) – as our spring beneficiary. Tickets are now available to attend this year’s Spring Fundraiser located at the Manhattan Penthouse ( All net proceeds will improve direct services for children and youth at Children’s Aid-affiliated schools and SHBCs.

Approximately 300 guests are invited to attend the event at the Manhattan Penthouse, on Fifth Avenue. Last year we achieved both record donations and overwhelming event attendance by Manhattan young professionals from various industries, such as law, fashion, finance, technology, real estate, and media, to name a few. This year, with your help, we strive to exceed these past successes.

This year’s attractions will include multiple raffle prizes in a tiered format. Event guests as well as those who cannot attend may pledge purchased raffle tickets to three tiers. Some of our premium (Tier 1) prizes include:

  • Three-night stay at Legends Hotel in Whistler, BC
  • NHL jersey signed by all 2016 Eastern Conference All-Star players
  • Three-day/two-night stay at the Courtyard Cadillac Ocean Front Hotel in Miami

Raffle prizes in all three tiers are comprised of an array of categories, including clothing and jewelry, fitness, food and drinks, home goods, as well as travel and recreation. A big thank you to our donors, including as Equinox, Theory, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, MOMA, Dowdle Folk Art, Rustico Cooking, Quality Branded, the New York Yankees, and New York Mets, to name just a few.

Multiple tickets may be purchased per attendee/donor. Tier 2 tickets begin at $30 each; Tier 3 tickets begin at $10 each. Participants may opt to purchase a bundle of tickets for a discount (3 Tier 2 tickets or 10 Tier 3 tickets for $75).

Please visit our event website for tickets to Smile Brighter, and to learn more about the evening and our various prizes and raffles:

For updates on upcoming volunteer activities and events, follow the Associates Council on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Trying Hard Hats on For Size

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Last week, middle school students from our after-school program received a crash course in Architecture 101.

Marketing group Corcoran Sunshine and real estate developer O’Connor Capital Partners invited a group of middle schoolers from the East Harlem Center to the Upper East Side, where students learned the significance of elevation, plans, and scale in architecture design and construction. It left the students with a greater appreciation of the work behind creating a single room—from the floors to the ceiling.

The companies brought their lesson plan to life by taking the students on a tour of one their apartments at 200 E 62, under construction. The students were able to map the future rooms, as outlined on the floor plan, and saw a finished project: a fully decorated and furnished apartment.

The appliance manufacturer Miele also sponsored a demonstration in one of its model kitchens, using cutting edge stove technology to make grilled cheeses for a quick after-school snack.

We want to thank Corcoran Sunshine, O’Connor Capital Partners, and Miele for extending the opportunity to our middle schoolers to catch a great glimpse of their industries. Now our students are aware of a couple more career possibilities they can explore in their futures.

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Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Four

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For Karina Collado, her job as a bilingual therapist at Mirabal Sisters Campus’ Health and Wellness Center is more than just providing counseling services for students—she advocates for her clients every day. She said that her job is to strengthen the individual, lift their self-esteem, and aid them in reaching their goals.

“I’m not here to make judgments,” said Karina. “I’m not here to tell them what to do. My job is to listen and help them make better decisions.”

On a weekly basis, Karina sees about 30 students, and provides them with the tools they need to thrive not only in school, but also at home. She links her students to educational services, after-school activities, and resources to address learning disabilities. Most importantly, she advocates for her clients in times of crisis, when feelings of depression and high levels of anxiety are most likely to arise. Her job is to assess the situation and the client’s needs, then provide the necessary recommendations.

“We have to deal with what is the current need of the student,” she said.

What makes Children’s Aid so fortunate to have Karina is her ability to connect with students. To Karina, her job is not about jumping to conclusions or judging the student on what brought them to the clinic. It’s about getting to know the client as a person.

“I tell them, ‘You are an individual. Your problems are not you,’” she said.

After she graduated from SUNY New Paltz, Karina landed a job as a youth coordinator at the Riverdale Neighborhood House, where she organized and facilitated workshops to prepare students for future careers and college success. Her experience led her to earn her master’s degree in social work from SUNY Stony Brook. Prior to Children’s Aid, Karina volunteered with AmeriCorps and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“It has always been in me, the need to want to give back to my community and to know that the work I do makes a difference,” she said.

Karina realizes that there are challenges to her position, but what makes her job so important, she says, is when the “light bulb” turns on in a student. It is then that she knows she is truly making a difference.


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Children’s Aid in the White House

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When the White House calls, you pick up the phone. And Children’s Aid feels very fortunate that the White House called earlier this year.

First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Reach Higher Initiative to “inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.” Last week, the initiative staged a panel called Beating the Odds to focus on programs and strategies that had documented success in helping young people in challenging neighborhoods achieve. And community schools had a seat in the front of the room.

Jane Quinn represented Children’s Aid and the National Center for Community Schools. She brought with her Jeff Palladino, the principal at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, where we have operated a community school for several years, and one of his former students and current Children’s Aid employee, Elvis Santana.

In the words of Jane, “Children’s Aid was all over the room.” Elvis told his personal story about how staff at Fannie Lou diverted him from a life that might have involved gangs and drugs and gone very wrong. Instead, he is a graduate of Albert Magnus College in Connecticut.

David Kirp, a professor of public policy at University of California, Berkeley, and regular contributor to the New York Times, talked about our long-term experience in community schools as he moderated the panel that Jane sat on.

“The Obama Administration understands that schools cannot succeed on their own,” said Jane the day after the event. “Schools need to engage community-based organizations like ours. One thing that really came through was the importance of confident, caring adults. Mentors, role models, internships, that came through in every story we heard.”

As one might expect, there was significant media interest in the visit. DNAinfo ran a strong piece in anticipation of the visit and News 12 Bronx visited Fannie Lou the day after everyone returned from our nation’s capital, ending another significant moment for the community school strategy.


Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Three

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Nick Difato Social Work Month

As a social worker in our family foster care services, Nick’s overarching responsibility is to create safer and more stable environments for children and their families. This requires him, like his colleagues, to wear many hats. So on a typical day, Nick finds himself balancing the duties equal to that of a journalist and a firefighter.

During home visits, he observes and notes areas where a family can benefit from support, a requirement to track the well-being of the child. Then there are the unexpected emergencies that require “putting out four fires at a time,” that leave very little room for drawn out decision-making.

“I love being in the field,” Nick said. “I love having to use my wits and mind to think on the spot to come up with solutions.”

These tasks all lend to Nick’s most prominent role as a social worker—being an advocate for children in care and their families, whether they are birth or foster parents. It is a difficult job, especially when trying to assess and meet the needs of each case. “Every kid has their own story,” he said. “Every family has their own story.”

Embracing this helps him keep the end goal in mind. He said, “It’s all for the safety of the children.”

Nick’s big picture goal when he takes a case is to leave the family stronger and healthier when they leave his care. That in itself would be enough for his job satisfaction. But Nick shoots higher, focusing on leaving a lasting impression on his clients.

“You are going to have to say things your clients do not want to hear, but it’s not about engaging in battles. It’s about gaining their respect and their trust.”


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Associates Council to Help Kids Smile Brighter

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Every year, the Associates Council of The Children’s Aid Society identifies an initiative that defines how it uses its time, talents, and resources. This year, the council is supporting dental services— a core component of health services provided at Children’s Aid community clinics and school-based health centers.   

The prevalence of tooth decay (known as dental caries disease) in primary teeth is high. Many children continue to suffer unnecessarily from untreated tooth decay, and minority and children living in low-income neighborhoods tend to be among those at highest risk. Nationally, 28 percent of children ages 2-5 have already experienced tooth decay. Additional research shows that disparities are apparent with respect to poverty, race, and ethnicity. About 94 percent of Medicaid-eligible children in New York under three, and 62 percent of those between 3-5 years, did not receive any dental care during 2009.

In addition to causing needless pain and suffering, tooth decay can cause eating difficulties, altered speech, loss of tooth structure or tooth loss, unsightly appearance and poor self-esteem, and much more. According to the Surgeon General, children with oral disease miss more than 51 million hours of school each year.

Children’s Aid provided dental services to 2,664 patients through 6,003 dental visits in 2015 and is one of the few providers that bring dental care to children where they are: schools. Dental services are provided at just 18 of the 145 school-based health centers (SBHCs) in NYC. Moving onto 2016, Children’s Aid will be partnering with Healthplex to bring no-touch dental screenings to children in more than 30 schools affiliated with Children’s Aid. These effective treatments allow dental professionals to monitor oral health for children without the anxiety that can occur for children visiting the dentist. Children’s Aid believes that more than 10,000 children could be screened and set on a path to better dental health.

Despite its importance to physical health, socioeconomic outcomes, and basic self-confidence, dental services remain significantly underfunded. With that understanding of its profound effect on youth, the Associates Council is proud to raise funds to complement dental service programming; we’re excited to donate, volunteer, and advocate for this important cause. Last month, we visited the Dunlevy Millbank Community Center to meet with Children’s Aid dental professionals, community center staff, and students to shoot a short film on their experiences at the dentist and why they love to smile bright. Be sure to check out our social media platforms below for previews of our short that will premiere at our Sixth Annual Spring Fundraiser, “Smile Brighter” on Thursday, April 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Penthouse on Fifth Avenue.

Tickets are now available to attend this year’s Spring Fundraiser located at All net proceeds will impact direct services for children and youth at Children’s Aid affiliated schools and SBHCs. We look forward to seeing your smile there! #smilebrightercas

For updates on upcoming volunteer activities and events, follow the Associates Council on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn


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Oh, The Places They’ll Go

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College Access And Success Trip to Washington

Each child’s potential increases with expanded access to opportunities. So it is no accident that one of the five pillars of our College Access and Success work is exposure. The Adolescence team is working with high school teens in our programs and sites across the organization to make sure they are aware of all of their options for college.

Last month, they took 44 high school juniors from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School and Opportunity Charter School on visits to colleges in the Washington, DC and Maryland region. At both Howard University and George Washington University, students went on campus tours, attended informational sessions, and ate in the dining halls to get a real sense of college life.

“It’s great because they see themselves applying to the schools they are visiting,” said Felipe Ayala, the College Access Assistant Manager in the Adolescence Division.  

For some students the trip was the first time they had left New York City. And rooming with other students on the trip who they didn’t know beforehand gave them a sense of life in the dorms and helped crystalize the possibility of going away for college.

More visits are on the horizon to Utica, Binghamton, and Union, which are all funded by New York State’s Higher Education Service Corporation. And we are excited to see our students continue to find that their options for the future are much larger than they originally imagined.


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Honoring the Dedication of Our Social Workers: Part Two

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Lori doesn’t advise her students—she guides them. If someone is struggling with an issue, she challenges that student to consider a different perspective, rather than rely on an adult for the answer. “Helping my students reflect on their situation teaches them how they can handle it on their own in the future,” she said. “Empowerment really is the core of my work.”

As a graduate student, Lori interned with the school based mental health clinic at the Mirabal Sisters Campus. It led her to her current work with the Carrera Pregnancy Prevention Program at Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women where, “with a guiding hand,” she aims to make her students feel safe and supported.

On a day to day basis, Lori helps high school girls successfully make the transition from their home environment to school. “Normalizing their experiences for them lets them see that they are not the only ones going through what may be happening at home,” she said. And it leaves them fully able to focus in the classroom and on their future. The college process presents another set of anxieties for high schoolers, but Lori and her colleagues also provide social-emotional support around college applications and the transition that comes with leaving high school.

Students might not always be willing to talk at first, but that doesn’t stop Lori’s work. “Just being there is important,” she said. “The fact that you are there and the fact that you have a relationship with them – even if they are not ready to talk to you yet—they feel comfortable knowing that they can approach you at a later time.”


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