Tag Archives: SONYC

The Elite Steppers of M.S. 289: from Afterschool to Gracie Mansion

Mayor Eric Adams and the Elite Steppers of M.S. 289

By Marissa Lutchman Dayaram
Program Director

Mayor Eric Adams and the Elite Steppers of M.S. 289

The Elite Steppers with NYC Mayor Eric Adams at his annual Youth Summit

The Elite Steppers dance team from the SONYC afterschool program at Queens United Middle School 289 began the last school year with hopes of entering and competing in the DYCD Step It Up NYC Competition. While the girls did enter and make it to the second round of the competition, what happened next was far more rewarding and valuable for the participants and their growth!

The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) created the Step It Up NYC initiative to leverage the performing arts to build community leadership capacity in young people ages 10-20. Dance and step teams not only compete, but also plan community service projects and develop citywide social campaigns to speak up about issues that impact their communities.

The teams were charged with exploring a topic related to their community as well as representing 50 years of hip-hop. The girls chose to focus on gun violence, as it is something that has been affecting them all. Gun violence in schools had become so prominent throughout the country, and the participants had peers who had been exposed to gun violence during and after school. Just within the community alone, there have been so many incidents and reports that the girls felt moved to represent this through their dance and step.

As part of the project, the team partnered with a community-based organization called 100 Suits  that helps prevent violence and promote unity and safety within the team’s community, and throughout New York City. With the help of 100 Suits staff, the Elite Steppers conducted outreach on the streets, spreading their message by interviewing and speaking to people, and performing for the community as well.

At the same time, the team members were equally dedicated to achieving excellence in their dance routines. They practiced and prepped from January to June for one hour three times a week!

In March, the team discovered that their hard work paid off and they had made it past the first round.

At their second-round performance, they did not know that a special guest, DYCD Commissioner Keith Howard, was observing in the background. He was so impressed by the Elite Steppers’ performance about gun violence that he decided to feature the team in a public service media campaign. A crew filmed them, and the video was posted on DYCD’s Instagram and YouTube accounts, which in turn caught the attention of NYC’s very own mayor, Eric Adams!

Watch the breathtaking Stop Gun Violence PSA video, created by DYCD and featuring the Elite Steppers.

Commissioner Howard and Mayor Adams were partnering on a campaign to “Stop Gun Violence,” and they invited our Elite Steppers to perform at Gracie Mansion as the opening act for the mayor’s youth summit. They hosted the team at the mansion, gave them a tour, and a private room with snacks and drinks for them to practice. After their performance, Mayor Adams met with the girls to tell them how much he appreciated what they were doing. He went on to speak to the audience about the message the girls relayed through their performance and how impactful it was.

The Elite Steppers with DYCD Commissioner Keith Howard at the Saturday Night Lights summer kickoff event at Basketball City

The Elite Steppers have since been called upon for a whirlwind of performances. Most recently they stepped at  a Saturday Night Lights summer kickoff event at Basketball City at Pier 36 in Manhattan and shared their message on ending gun violence. They performed for an array of guests, including Commissioner Howard, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, former NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, NBA stars John Starks from the NY Knicks and Albert King from the Brooklyn Nets, and all the youth from the basketball teams who were in attendance.

Thirteen-year-old Elite Stepper Ava spoke for all her teammates when she said, “Being on the team taught me life lessons: how to work together, be stronger, and have respect for my teammates and myself. It was fun to experience everything that we did, traveling to the city and stepping for not only our school, but for the mayor! I can’t wait to do it again. Being an Elite Stepper is one of the best things that has happened to me so far in my middle school years.”

July Photo of the Month: Undefeated!

Members of the Parsons FC

Scoring Big at Parsons Summer Programs

Members of the Parsons FC

The Parsons Football Club (FC), including eighth-grader Abdul, holding the Moroccan flag out of pride for his home country. The Child Center of NY serves large immigrant populations throughout the city.

Meet the fearless, friendly, and (nearly) undefeated participants of our first-ever Parsons FC! Continue reading

Abigail’s Story

Abigail and Ms. Barkan from Parsons SONYC program at Q252, The Queens School of Inquiry

Abigail (right) with Youth Advocate Ms. Barkan

When I first got to middle school, I was super quiet and didn’t have the confidence to talk to anyone, unless they spoke to me first.

This lack of confidence affected my attitude toward my schoolwork. I came into school hating ELA. But Ms. Barkan, who started off as my 6th grade ELA teacher, took her time with me and helped me understand everything.

It took some time, but I began to look forward to Ms. Barkan’s class. We built a strong bond, and when she asked me to participate in the Steps to Success* SONYC-QSI program, I accepted, knowing I would have time to talk with Ms. Barkan.

At first, I was scared to open up to Ms. Barkan and everyone in the group, but I saw that she and the group wouldn’t judge me for expressing my feelings and stating my opinions. They gave me the confidence to speak up and even provide others with advice.

Whenever I experienced any hardships, like others talking badly to me or about me, Ms. Barkan would be the first person I would go to because I didn’t feel judged by her and I knew she would listen and provide guidance. With Steps to Success, I felt that I always had someone to talk to about my feelings, and I knew they were listening to me, wanting to help me and not judge me.

Without Steps to Success and Ms. Barkan, I would still be this shy person, instead of the confident and outgoing person I have become through the program. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

Abigail’s Story: Ms. Barkan’s Perspective

By Jessica Barkan, Youth Advocate, the Parsons SONYC program at Q252, The Queens School of Inquiry

Abigail’s story is one that is extra special to me because she started off as my sixth-grade student, right before the pandemic hit, and then Abigail became my mentee in the Steps to Success* program the next school year.

I want you to picture a shy girl who can’t make eye contact, who tries to hide in her hoodie, and who has the lowest of confidence socially and academically. A girl who doesn’t believe she is smart enough to answer questions or as good of a writer as other students.

Due to feeling this way, her grades were lower than they should have been. Abigail was in danger of failing and having to go to summer school. Regarding the social aspect, Abigail didn’t have friends in her class, and it took her a long time to socialize and feel comfortable enough to talk to other students.

This was Abigail when I first met her. My goal was to get her out of her hard shell and build her confidence.

I somehow convinced Abigail to join Steps to Success, promising that it would help her with her social skills and confidence. I even told her that I would make time for one-on-one sessions where she could tell me what she needed support in, and I would walk her through it all.

The process wasn’t easy or quick, but Abigail put in the work. She showed up every day to Steps to Success (remotely at the time, which was an even bigger deal) and participated. I made sure the topics would be of interest to her and relatable. She loved debating and talking about controversial topics, whether those topics had to do with gender, culture, bias, or even just basic communication skills. I had Abigail lead conversations, and this led her to be more confident in sharing her feelings about different topics of discussion.

Over time, Abigail would be the first one to show up to the Steps to Success Google Meet, ready for the next topic. She would confidently participate in conversations and then listen attentively to the day’s discussion.

I started to notice positive changes in other aspects of Abigail’s life. She was completing all of her assignments and receiving passing grades in subjects in which she had struggled previously. She was initiating conversation with other students who were on the “quieter” side, like she herself was. In so doing, she began to come out of her shell, which provided her with more confidence to get her work done. It was as if the social aspect were motivating her to care more about her academics.

Abigail, too, noticed the change. She told me she felt proud of herself because she was doing better in school, felt more confident communicating her feelings to teachers and friends, and finally could appreciate what she brought to the table.

Although Steps to Success was not the easiest or most comfortable process for Abigail, she no longer hides. She is now able to make eye contact, express herself without pause, and feel proud of herself. She has put herself out there socially and has tried harder academically. Is Abigail’s shell still there? Of course, but it is a lot softer now.

*Steps to Success is made possible at The Child Center of NY with funding from Sterling National Bank Charitable Foundation.

Girls Night In

girls night in1Female scholars at the Waterside School for Leadership in Rockaway Park celebrated their first ever “Girl’s Night In” on May 13. The evening, hosted by The Child Center of NY’s SONYC afterschool program, was a chance for the girls to build a sense of community as they felt like royalty, posing for pictures with the actual Ms. New York 2016, Anna Treppiedi, and taking turns trying on her crown.

Treppiedi, program coordinator of SONYC Waterside, spoke to the girls about self-esteem and respect. She also emphasized her expectation that they do their best in school: “It doesn’t matter what you want to do. You will need to go to school. You want to teach? You want to be an actress? You want to wrestle, like me?  You need school!”

The pageant winner also shared her own experience of being bullied when she was younger and how she overcame it. She reminded them that a positive attitude and hard work are the keys to success.

Female scholar Diamond, an eighth-grader at the Waterside School, summed it up when she declared, “Beauty is in the mind, the heart, and the soul. If you have a good personality, people will want to be around you.”Girls night in 2

“Lights on Afterschool” Shows Off Students’ Work

Lights On Afterschool When students geared up for classes after the summer break, afterschool programs launched too, enriching the after-school hours with learning and fun. Across the country, afterschool programs participated in Lights on Afterschool events where they highlighted their programs and how they are helping kids to learn and grow.

At the PS 56 COMPASS program, our programs paired the event with parent orientation and set up a gallery of the STEM-themed projects students worked on. Parents guessed scents and objects at a “Five Senses” display, and looked at clay models of dinosaurs and fossils at another station. Kindergarten students made a color wheel, Continue reading

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