The Children's Aid Blog

Coming Together on Community Schools

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“One thing we have to keep in our minds is how powerful it is when adults can get together for children. The biggest move we can make is to make sure that the work that we do in community schools gets all of the adults to the table for children”- New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

Nearly 100 adults and key community school stakeholders from every corner of New York came together for children at the first New York State Community Schools Network Convening on August 2 at the University at Albany East Campus. The goals of the convening were to not only have partners across the state meet for the first time but to also share community schools practice, collaborate with one another on the goals and priorities for the state network, and develop a legislative and policy agenda for New York State community schools.

The New York State Community Schools Network* is an emerging coalition consisting of a diverse group of key community school partners representing community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and unions. For the past two years, Children’s Aid has served as a steering committee member collaborating with partners across the state to influence community school policy and formulate strategies to support all local and statewide community school initiatives.

Valuable networking opportunities, thoughtful conversations, and strategic planning occurred throughout the day on August 2. The synergy among community schools stakeholders, from community school directors to school board superintendents to our elected officials was invigorating. Breakout sessions were facilitated across several topics which included defining our community schools state vision and developing our legislative policy priorities. You can view the keynote addresses that were given by New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Betty Rosa and New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, both articulating their support and commitment to the success of community schools.

Martin J. Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, moderated an excellent panel discussion on community schools policy and practice which included an esteemed group of community school champions, including New York State assembly members Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) and Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo).

The large attendance, key representation, and overall energy from the day strengthens the infrastructure for a robust state coalition to not only grow but collaborate to sustain, build capacity, and support high-quality community schools. Chancellor Rosa said that community schools are “very important to the solution and the issues we face today in terms of equity and social justice.” Our Office of Public Policy is dedicated to building the New York State Community Schools Network, advocating for equitable solutions supporting Children’s Aid children and families. In the next few months, the steering committee will finalize their state policy agenda for the FY18 budget cycle, actively participating in the upcoming legislative process.

*Current members of the New York State Community Schools Network: Alliance for Quality Education, Broome County Promise Zone, Capital Area School Development Association, Coalition for Educational Justice, New York School-Based Health Alliance, New York State Network for Youth Success, New York State United Teachers, Rockland 21C, The Children’s Aid Society, and United Federation of Teachers



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Paying it Forward: Part Two

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For Matthews Valdez, Children’s Aid was always a place to call home. His mother, a former Children’s Aid staff member, was a facilitator who trained many of our current employees working in Washington Heights. It was during this time that Matthews entered our services.

He began summer camp when he was 6, and since then has become an instrumental part of our community. In addition to summer camp, he also participated in our after-school programs at P.S. 5. He said his experience as a Children’s Aid kid is something he will never forget.

“I loved it,” he said. “That’s something I’m always going to appreciate.”

After growing up and realizing his passion for working with kids, he decided to come back and join P.S.152’s team as a facilitator and lifeguard. Even as an employee at Children’s Aid, he continues to find his experience as one that is rewarding.

Matthews aspires to one day become a Children’s Aid arts specialist, focusing on dance. His passion for dance started when he was chosen to participate in AileyCamp, where he learned tap, ballet, hip hop, west African, and jazz dance routines. After being in the camp for four years, he won a scholarship to take classes three days a week at the Alvin Ailey School. He says the experience helped him be the person he is today.

“Doing this made me feel more confident in myself,” he said.

Matthews continues to be a valuable asset to our community by “paying it forward” and helping kids in the community succeed and thrive. 



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Reaffirming a Commitment to Community

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This summer 19 students were placed in different offices at all three levels of government through the Children’s Aid Community Building Summer Internship (CBSI) program. The program, which runs through our public policy office and is currently in its ninth year, provides high school and college students with hands on experiences in public service in neighborhoods in the Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem, and for the first time this year, Staten Island.

At the program’s end of summer appreciation ceremony, Children’s Aid CEO and president Phoebe Boyer commended the interns on completing the summer program and Sandra Escamilla, our new vice president of the Adolescence Division, delivered a warm and encouraging keynote speech to the young students that urged them to find their purpose.

“When you follow your purpose, the prosperity that you find is unmatched,” said Sandra.

Within each of their internships, CBSI participants completed key office tasks and learned how to support and engage constituents in their communities. Interns also attended weekly training sessions with facilitators from the Resilience Advocacy Project (RAP), which they used to collectively complete a community engagement project. After realizing that many New York City high school students lack access to information around the college process, this year’s group of interns created an online petition to urge the Department of Education, Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo to create a universal college prep program in New York City. The interns shared their project with New York State senators and assembly members and city officials at the program’s end of summer appreciation ceremony.

We congratulate our CBSI interns for completing a successful summer and for being prime examples of how integral building community is to the Children’s Aid mission.

And if you haven’t already, please sign the petition.



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Rio on the Hudson

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Earlier this August, our very own Children’s Aid Olympians competed at the Citi-sponsored “Rio on the Hudson.”  74 campers from our P.S. 5 and P.S. 152 campuses in Washington Heights attended the event, which was held at Pier 26 Hudson River Park.

Campers got the chance to meet Olympic soccer player Mia Hamm and enjoyed activities like face painting and making their very own Olympic torches. They also participated in a virtual "sprint" challenge against track and field gold medalist Allyson Felix, tested their swinging skills in a golf simulator, and took professional soccer and basketball lessons. At the end of the day, campers even got to celebrate with some ice cream at a miniature version of Copacabana beach.

Team Children’s Aid had so much fun at the event, and we thank Citi for inviting us down to be a part of the games.




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Team Children's Aid: Part One

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There was a time when Angelic Pla couldn’t stand the thought of running. About five years ago, she pushed past that one-mile barrier that had proved to be her limit and discovered something new about herself.

Today, she’s running four or five times a week in preparation for the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. When she takes those first strides across Verrazano Bridge, from Staten Island to Brooklyn, she’ll have the entire Children’s Aid family rooting for her.

A cousin invited Angelic, 26, to a volunteer reading promotion event at Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem, and she liked what she saw. She joined the Associates Council this past spring. “I’m grateful for all the blessings I have,” said Angelic, who works in human resources at Columbia University. “Not everyone has the same opportunities, so working with kids for Children’s Aid is my way of trying to make sure all kids get a fair shot.”

As if training for a marathon isn’t hard enough, Angelic has committed to raising $3,500 for Children’s Aid. She’s going to be seeking out support from the same people she expects to cheer her on the streets.

For now, though, her next challenge is running 18 miles this weekend, the next step in her quest. Best of luck, Angelic.




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Lessons Learned

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For rising high school seniors like Titus Cleveland, the summertime can be transformative in many ways. This summer, Titus is interning in our Development department, where he assists with Children’s Aid fundraising, event planning, and donor relations. His summer role not only provided him with office experience, but was further supplemented with skills-building workshops through the Summer Internship Program (SIP) at the Children’s Aid Hope Leadership Academy.

The six-week program educates high school-aged youth on how to develop their personal brand, while also exposing them to different working environments. The program has given Titus a completely new understanding of all that goes into being career ready.

“During SIP, we went to corporate workplaces to get the feel for how people behave in business environments,” said Titus. “As a summer intern, I got to observe how a professional environment is run, and for me, learning how to dress was a great lesson on how to be career ready.”

One of these workplaces was Madison Square Garden’s Varsity Sports offices, an added treat for Titus. He plans to study sports management or communications in college and found the visit to MSG Varsity very transformative because it helped him see how he could translate his love of sports into potential career opportunities, like sports broadcasting. SIP also helped Titus hone his networking skills, by teaching him and his peers how to advocate for themselves with professionals. An example was simply asking for business cards.

“I got a card from a supervisor I met at the Varsity Sports office, and now I am coming in the fall for a meeting with him,” said Titus. “It’s a new contact that could potentially lead to a job. This is a world where connections really matter, so I am very happy I had the chance to speak with someone whose career I would like to explore further.”




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Making a Commitment to the Bronx

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Crystal Jones calls Wisconsin home, but if her day-to-day life says anything about her, she might also now say the same about the Bronx. She’s getting her bachelor’s in social work while working part time at the Bronx Alehouse, where she’s able to expand her interest in craft beers. Her goal is to land a job with either a foster care or adoption agency.

She’s also a cyclist, and the mix of all these interests gave her an idea. She hosted an event called Ride the Bronx, a 20-mile ride with stops at local Bronx breweries. And she wanted the Next Generation Center to be the beneficiary. “I chose this organization because I fully support and stand behind their mission,” said Crystal. NGC connects young men and women who have been in the foster care or juvenile justice system, or have become disconnected from society in some other way, with education and employment skills in an effort to make sure they’re successful, independent adults.

“They address issues that most people sweep under the rug when thinking about the youth in the foster care system,” said Crystal. “NGC makes sure these kids have the opportunity to reach their full potential and to experience all possibilities that lay in their future. As a New York City community, we should choose to encourage positivity, empowerment and a love of learning into these young adults so that we can ALL enjoy a brighter future."

We can’t really say it much better ourselves. Thanks for your dedication, Crystal.

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AileyCamp: Blueprint of a Dream

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If you were to ask any audience member at this year’s AileyCamp finale, they would almost certainly be able to make a strong connection from the performance to a dream. Flowing from jazz to ballet to hip hop to West African and more, each presentation mapped out a story through dance. 

The night's production, “Blueprint of a Dream,” marked the 26th anniversary of AileyCamp in New York City. Children’s Aid is a primary partner of AileyCamp. This treasured relationship has brightened the lives of more than 2,000 young people from our agency, all who have had the opportunity to showcase their talent and creativity through dance while also strengthening their well-being and self-esteem.

Family members and friends, and staff members of Children’s Aid and AileyCamp, filled the auditorium and witnessed the power of AileyCamp at Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx this past Thursday evening. The joy and excitement was infectious. 

These young people had just six weeks to lay the ground work—some might even say the blueprint—to create this extraordinary show. Together, they built something beautiful.


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Paying it Forward

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At Children’s Aid, we guide our youth in their journey towards independence by teaching them the skills and knowledge necessary to function in the adult world through quality work experience.

Manny Torres, 22, was a participant at two Children’s Aid after-school programs in Washington Heights: P.S.5 and P.S. 152.

Eager to work at the age of 15, Manny participated in our Summer Youth Employment Program, where he held an assistant facilitator position at P.S.152, the very same school he attended as a child.

Throughout his career and growth at Children’s Aid, Manny has attended trainings like classroom management and Mind in the Making—which helps kids apply life skills—that have furthered his professional development.

Now Manny is the aquatics director and physical education specialist at P.S 152 in Washington Heights, and he feels a strong sense of accomplishment. And like many of our staff, he looks back to the environment that supported him. “I want to be able to give back to the community,” he said. “I want to show the kids what is right, and inspire them do better for themselves.”

Manny is a full-time student expected to graduate in the fall of 2016 from Borough of Manhattan Community College. After graduation, he plans to attend Lehman College where he will pursue his dreams of becoming a physical education teacher.

“Through working for Children’s Aid, I’ve gained many skills that I will use in the future,” said Manny. “The skills like the ones I learned as a kid in our programs are the ones I still use today.”

Each summer a number of exceptional young people get involved with our summer work programs. Our summer interns and program staff add a wealth of value to Children’s Aid that make our summers successful. We are particularly excited when former and current program participants revisit their childhood summers to build on their experiences and help current participants enrich their own. For the remainder of the summer, we will profile a current or former Children’s Aid summer program participant who is also working with Children’s Aid, placing them further along the pathway to career readiness and adult independence.




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Summer Reads on Staten Island

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Studies have shown that summertime can be perilous for kids—and not because they’re more likely to get poison ivy or have a nasty encounter with a yellow jacket. No, we are talking about summer learning loss. And young people from low-income neighborhoods are more likely to lose academic ground than their peers in more affluent areas.

That’s why reading is a staple of the Children’s Aid summer camp experience. Each of the nearly 3,000 kids in our camps reads anywhere from 90 to 180 minutes a week each day. Our biggest celebration of that activity occurs every August at Goodhue Center on Staten Island.

Reading Leaders Day is enjoyed as much by the elected officials and public servants who lead the readings as it is by the kids. This year, we were joined by New York State Assembly Member Matthew Titone, Deputy Borough President Ed Burke, and several other representatives from City Hall, City Council, and elsewhere. They treated kids to some classic tales including Teddy the Dog, The Power of Henry’s Imagination, Max the Brave, and When Penny Met POTUS

Many thanks to the leaders for their dedication.






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