The Children's Aid Blog

Inventing the Future, Through Community Schools

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In 1997, educators, nonprofit and civic leaders, policymakers, and funders who were early adopters of the community school strategy convened to talk about how to make schools better. It was the very first community schools practicum.

At the time, Jane Quinn worked for a foundation that was investing in this type of work. Today, she’s the director of the National Center for Community Schools and the driving force behind the latest Community Schools Practicum, from October 14-16.

The theme was “Leading Community Schools: Assessing the Past, Inventing the Future.” And the enthusiasm and attendance was a powerful testament to the work. More than 150 participants traveled to Morningside Heights to share ideas and hash through issues at this invitation-only event. They came from 22 states, 38 cities, and two countries.

NCCS was very excited to have Chris Caruso, executive director of New York City’s Office of Community Schools (and an alum of Children’s Aid) talk about community school expansion, and John S. Rogers, the country’s leading historian of community schools. In addition to Chris there were so many other leaders in this field who made the two-day conference, as well as the site visits on the first day, a dynamic experience for everyone involved.

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Samsung Day of Service

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On Friday, October 16, several Children’s Aid Early Childhood sites welcomed volunteers from Samsung for their corporate day of service. Approximately 50 volunteers split into groups going to Dunlevy Milbank Center, East Harlem Center, P.S. 8, Drew Hamilton Learning Center, Frederick Douglass Center, and the Taft Day Care Center. The volunteers joined in all the regular classroom activities, such as buddy reading, gym and playground, and arts and crafts, and had a great day with about 300 of our kids. They stayed through the entire day participating in lunch service while taking a break for lunch during “naptime.” Samsung also made a generous donation to our Early Childhood Division.

Shine the Light on Domestic Violence

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The Family Wellness Program would like to invite you to join us in recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  On Monday, October 26, the Upper Manhattan Domestic Violence Services Coalition will hold its annual awareness event: Walk and Speak Out.

The walk will begin at 5:30 p.m. starting 116th St. and Frederick Douglas Blvd (8th Ave.) and ending at Adam Clayton Powell  Jr. State Office Building. View Flyer.

Click here to RSVP

Domestic violence is a complex problem that affects many of the families we work with, and it can have long-lasting effects on a child’s ability to succeed and thrive.  Domestic violence—also known as relationship abuse or intimate partner abuse—is a pattern in an intimate relationship in which one person attempts to gain and maintain power and control over the other person using coercion, entitlement, physical, emotional, sexual, or financial tactics.  Domestic violence affects children and families in innumerable ways and with concerning frequency.  Some examples:

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime, and 1 in 3 teens report experiencing some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships, including verbal and emotional abuse.
  • In 2014 alone, there were 282,648 reported incidents of domestic violence in New York City 
  • 40% of all felony assault offenses in NYC were domestic violence related
  • 36% of all rape offenses in NYC are domestic violence related 
  • In 2013, there were over 18,700 child abuse investigations in which domestic violence was indicated in reports to the New York State Central Registry—two every hour.
  • Various studies have shown that children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also suffer abuse or neglect at rates ranging from 30-60%.
  • There was a history of domestic violence in the families of  86% of children killed last year, according to the child fatality review.

In order for the children and teens we work with to succeed, we must support them and their families in finding long-term safety, stability, and healing.  Our in-house DV experts at the Family Wellness Program are always available as a resource for CAS staff. Please feel free to call us at 212-503-6842 or email for information or a case consultation, or to schedule training for your program staff on identifying and responding to domestic violence in families you work with.

Children’s Aid Celebrates Community

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On Wednesday, September 30, The Children’s Aid Society’s Family Success Network hosted more than 20 families for “Celebrate Africa Night,” a cultural evening of food, entertainment, and community building.

The celebration kicks-off the African Immigrant Engagement program, a pilot program developed by life coach Lyrica Files-Aime to support West African families at Children’s Aid community schools at C.S. 211 and Children’s Aid College Prep in the South Bronx.

The program will offer families a series of workshops on parenting strategies and immigrant rights, in addition to providing mental health and English language learning services. It also looks to connect African families within the community and to provide cultural competence trainings for Children’s Aid staff to better serve immigrant populations.

For more information about the Immigrant Engagement program, please contact Lyrica Fils-Aime  at

Getting into High Gear

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A huge advantage to being an organization with a storied history and well-established presence throughout New York City is that great opportunities often come our way. That was the case with SoulCycle, a national fitness company that offers indoor cycling, or spin, classes. 

The company founders started SOULSCHOLARSHIP last year as a way to give back to the community. The initiative brings teens to their cycle studios to take classes, learn about fitness and nutrition, and create opportunities for change in their lives.

Courtney Carrera-Ghatan, the assistant director for national medical and dental services in the CAS Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, is leading the effort for Children’s Aid and asked our team to recruit 15 teens from both Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx and Urban Assembly Institute in Brooklyn for six-week programs that began over the summer.

The teens attended two mandatory classes each week. They also met with a nutritionist and took a work-readiness workshop to talk about interviewing and resumes. But the heart of the class was the exercise, led by SoulCycle instructors.

“It was unbelievable, truly life changing for these kids,” said Courtney. “At the end, the kids were able to articulate how they made better choices with food and health. But they also left with the feeling that they could do anything.”

The credit for that goes to the instructors. “They were supportive and kind and motivating, and they talked to our teens about how they could do anything,” said Courtney.

The “graduates” will now proceed to phase two of the initiative: twice-a-month rides with a mentor for several months. After that, they have lifetime access to take SoulCycle classes, an amazing benefit.

In the meantime, Courtney is putting together another 30 students for a second class of SOULSCHOLARSHIP participants. And she can’t recommend it enough. “SoulCycle really made this like a family.

YES Teens Gain a Different Perspective

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More than two decades ago, longstanding Children’s Aid supporter Michael Stern wanted to offer high school students an opportunity to make the concepts of college and a career substantive through dynamic experiences. From that idea came the Youth Employment Summer Program (YES).

YES partners some of the most ambitious teens in our Hope Leadership Academy with corporate internships throughout the summer, to get a sense of what kind of careers were possible after a successful college career. Prior participation in the Children’s Aid Corporate Workplace program is a prerequisite to YES.

The program includes mentoring sessions, opportunities to network with professionals, as well as cultural opportunities across the city, including the Museum of Natural History and the Hunger Games Exhibit-Discovery Times Square. This year, the group, which also includes some college freshman, visited the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Wall Street Journal, and an information session at the United Nations, where they heard a U.N. expert talk about the organization’s peacekeeping missions. YES participants learned that an exciting job could take them across the globe. The trip to the FBI office had special impact because several of the participants were already thinking about a career in law enforcement.

This year featured a brand-new writing workshop. Writing has always had a place in YES, but this was the first summer for a more rigorous effort designed to help participants succeed in college when they begin writing longer, more complicated papers.

Speaking of college, one of the highlights of every summer is a weekend trip to Dartmouth College, where Mr. Stern is an alumnus. Many students have spent little time outside New York City. So this trip offers them a chance to see a different way of life. It also makes the concept of college feel less abstract.

One of this summer’s participants, Shanyia David, a senior at Urban Assembly Institute, summed YES as well as anyone can: “YES teaches you the means to success.”

Future Policy Leaders

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For nine years running, The Children’s Aid Society Community Building Summer Internship (CBSI) program has provided high school and college-ready youth from high needs neighborhoods with the opportunity to intern in the offices of their elected officials. This summer, CBSI placed 15 students in different offices within all three levels of government.

The students developed leadership skills required to succeed in a public service setting. They also attended weekly training sessions—which they used to collectively complete a community engagement project—with facilitators from the Resilience Advocacy Project, a youth empowerment organization.

This year’s group of community builders unanimously rallied around a dynamic anti-bullying campaign. After weeks of learning about peer advocacy and gaining awareness around dating violence, the students came up with three ways to get their word out:

  • They created informational posters about cycles of violence and distributed the flyers to their peers.
  • They created a sticker campaign to increase active bystander awareness around bullying.
  • They utilized social media as a tool for advocacy and created an Instagram page (@bullyoutstanders) and a hashtag campaign #defeatthecycle.

The interns showcased their efforts at the End of the Summer Appreciation Ceremony, on August 7th, where members of Congress, New York State senators and assembly members, and city officials and staff joined the students to celebrate their achievements over the past six weeks.

The CBSI is funded through the College and Career Pathways Summer Job Program, which is generously funded by the New York Times. We are proud to provide our program participants with valuable hands on experiences and are grateful for the meaningful partnerships that allow them to thrive as leaders.





AileyCamp: Inspiration

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In certain respects, this year’s AileyCamp finale was a blur of variety and contrast. Ballet, hip hop, West African, modern, jazz. The music raced and then slowed. Girls and boys, short and tall, owned the glowing stage.

The unshakeable constant throughout was the joy and excitement that all the dancers brought to the final performance, at Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx. The night’s theme was “Ailey Spirit…Catch It,” and if the crowd was a fair indication, the dancers accomplished their mission.

This summer marked the 25th anniversary of AileyCamp in New York City. Children’s Aid has been the primary partner of AileyCamp for most of those 25 years, and it is a cherished relationship. More than 2,000 young people from Children’s Aid have experienced the power of AileyCamp.

“These youth learn about much more than dance during their weeks here each summer,” said Phoebe Boyer, who had a few minutes at the beginning of the performance to talk about its impact. “They make new friends. They discover New York City. And most importantly they learn quite a bit about themselves. It’s no exaggeration—this camp changes lives.”

The fact that these young people can put together this caliber of performance in just six weeks is stunning. It was an unforgettable performance.      





Seeing is Believing

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It is an often-told story: a young boy or girl struggles in school. They say everything is fine, they’re just having trouble understanding the material or provide another reason for not doing well. Then, one day, they get a vision screening, and soon after a pair of eyeglasses. Academic improvement often occurs within weeks.

August is National Eye Exam Month, so there’s no better time to be thinking about the vision of our youth. Approximately 13.5 million young people under age 18 suffer from some sort of vision problem. In New York City alone, that number is around 250,000. Children living in poverty, and especially the children of recent immigrants, are especially susceptible to undetected vision problems. That’s why Children’s Aid makes vision screenings a fundamental component of the services we offer at our community schools to all children in grades 4-12.

Thanks to generous private donors, Children’s Aid and Helen Keller International (HKI) have been partnering since 2007 to bring visual health services to thousands of children and teens throughout our community schools. Over the last eight years, we have screened 41,000 students, with nearly 7,000 of those young people getting free eyeglasses as a result.

Does your child have a vision problem? Here are 10 possible signs, from the American Optometric Association:

  1. Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
  2. Short attention span
  3. Avoids reading and other close activities
  4. Frequent headaches
  5. Covers one eye
  6. Tilts head to one side
  7. Holds reading materials close to the face
  8. One eye turns in or out
  9. Loses place when reading
  10. Has difficulty recalling what has just been read

If your child exhibits any of these signs, now might be the time to get a vision screening and ensure that your children have all the tools they need to be successful in school. 

The Battle Against Asthma Goes National

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Asthma is a problem found in communities in every corner of the country, but it has reached an epidemic level for kids in lower-income neighborhoods. So the South Bronx, home to Children’s Aid’s Bronx Health Center, was an ideal platform for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to call attention to the great need to do more in combatting asthma in our young people. And the best avenue to do so is in the schools.

Sen. Gillibrand’s legislation is called the School Asthma Management Plan, and it would bring tools and resources to schools and districts so they are ready to respond to asthma attacks. The language is currently included in a larger bill—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—recently passed by the Senate. It’s up to the House of Representatives to make this language law.

“Approximately 36,000 Bronx children suffer from this chronic disease,” said Sen. Gillibrand, “so the place where they spend so much of their time—our schools—must be ready. This legislation will make sure schools have the resources to meet our students’ needs.”

Bronx-based leaders, well acquainted with the community’s asthma crisis, descended on the Bronx Health Center to show their support, including Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., State Senator Gustavo Rivera, and Assemblymember Mike Blake.

“The evidence couldn’t be clearer that asthma can have devastating consequences not just on children’s health but on their ability to succeed in school and life,” said Phoebe Boyer, our president and CEO. “Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will have a tremendous impact on the South Bronx and many other communities in New York City and across the nation where asthma is a major obstacle to children’s well-being and to developing healthy school communities.”

It was a good day for kids because it’s a great piece of legislation. 

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