Recently, the team at ace-ed.org sat down to talk with Rachael Gazdick, CEO, New York Edge. Rachael is the chief executive officer of New York Edge, the metropolitan region’s largest provider of after-school programs. With more than 20 years’ experience in education advocacy, Rachael has dedicated her career to building equity in education. Below is that conversation, edited for brevity.
Thank you for taking the time to connect with us Rachael. Can you tell readers about New York Edge? Why was it founded, what does it do, and who do you serve?
Thanks for inviting me to be a part of ACE. New York Edge has been around for 30 years. Our mission is to help bridge the opportunity gap among students in underinvested communities by providing programs designed to improve academic performance, health and wellness, self-confidence, and leadership skills for success in life. Today, we are the largest provider of after school and summer camp programs in New York City. Through our programs in academics – including STEM and literacy, sports, the arts, and college and career readiness – we serve 30,000 students across more than 100 schools in grades K-12 each year.
Your programs are helping bridge the opportunity gap among students in underinvested communities. In researching your organization, it seems you are doing this by re-thinking what before-and-after school programs look like. Can you share a little bit about how your organization is re-inventing these programs?
It’s important to us that afterschool be seen and treated as an extension of the school day. Academic and leadership skills are sharpened through curriculum that is rigorous, engaging, and fun. Students have “voice and choice” in what they pursue and it’s important that they explore their talents so that the next author, scientist, mechanic, artist, or entrepreneur can flourish.
So, in regard to academics, how does that philosophy translate into programs? What kinds of academic support do you offer to help close the opportunity gap?
Our academic support is determined by working closely with principals and teachers to identify the needs of the students and address them. This can look like homework help, English language learner supports, and tutoring in specific subjects. Students attend the session that best supports their needs. Part of our afterschool workforce is comprised of New York City teachers – often from the school itself – which enables an even more seamless transition from the school day. In addition, at the high school level, we work with students to support their college application process which includes family workshops to begin the conversation about college, taking students on campus visits, SAT preparation, assistance with financial aid college applications, mentoring, and more.
Do you coordinate with the New York City Schools to ensure this work dovetails with what is going on in the classroom?
New York Edge is a trusted partner of the New York City Department of Education and the Department of Youth and Community Development. In addition, we work closely with each school to develop a customized approach based on the students’ needs as well as the areas of focus outlined by the school.
What sorts of other programs do you offer—are there opportunities in the arts, science, physical education, or other disciplines?
Our arts program is incredibly diverse—drama, dance, visual arts, music, and fashion design are just some of the opportunities we offer. We also engage various partners to implement innovative programs for the youth we serve. We recently launched a program with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam called the Heart for Art program. It is designed to inspire children in communities with limited access to cultural education with the art and life story of Vincent Van Gogh. New York Edge’s instructors were trained by experienced Van Gogh Museum educators, and the program is currently in 10 of our schools across New York City. The Heart for Art program is supported through a partnership with DHL, which also provides shipping coordination of all teaching materials, including a museum-quality replica of a Van Gogh work for participating children to examine and touch.
We have another exciting new partnership with Discovery Education in the area of STEM education. Through this partnership, our instructors have access to thousands of lesson plans, STEM activities, multimedia content and STEM instructional trainings for our teachers. In addition to having access to content curated by Discovery Education, our instructors can build instructional activities in their online platform that can be viewed and shared across all of our sites. This is just one of the opportunities in science—we also have coding classes, robotics programs with teams and competitions, an innovative marriage of STEM and sports where students learn to assemble and maintain a bike, ride it, and take safety classes to ensure safe enjoyment.
New York Edge also offers a large range of sports and fitness programs. Our sports leagues are perhaps the most popular with soccer, basketball and flag football, soon to be joined by volleyball. Teams at schools compete against each other, culminating in “finals” events that are attended by students and parents.
Your organization has a really interesting podcast that I’d love for readers to learn about. Can you share what New York Edge’s podcast is all about?
We are so excited about our podcast, “Formative”. We are now airing season two and are already recording season three! The podcast features New York Edge middle school students who interview leaders from all different sectors about their educational and career journeys, and who gave them their edge to succeed. The students research the guests and prepare their questions, and it really is an inspirational podcast for all ages. Technically, I co-host “Formative” with the students, but I just take a back seat to them because they are so good! So far, we’ve had a playwright, a Super Bowl-winning athlete, a NASA engineer and astronaut, authors, and even a member of the famous Jamaican bobsled team! You can listen to “Formative” on all the major podcast platforms.
So, what is next for New York Edge?
We are expanding many key program areas. Here are three great examples:
In our College and Career Readiness programming we are preparing students for 21st Century career tracks. We expose them to career options through job shadowing, industry presentations, and workplace tours throughout the school year. In the summer, high school students have the opportunity to explore their interests and gain firsthand experience in the workplace, create and expand professional and social networks, enhance their personal resumes and develop industry knowledge.
Our Student Book Publishing Initiative pairs elementary school students with an author and illustrators to conceive and write their own book. The program is helping kids build a stronger connection with literacy, storytelling, and art through immersive, hands-on workshops. Students build confidence by working together to write and publish a book, with an end goal of having mainstream retailers sell the book. Income generated from book sales is reinvested in the student book publishing initiative. We began as a pilot in PS 189 in the Bronx last year. The children published The Magical Bakery, which is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The program is currently in 6 additional schools and we are looking forward to the upcoming books this spring!
In our Designers Den Merch Shop, students will work together to launch a line of t-shirts that will be available for sale, with profits helping fund other New York Edge student initiatives. Designers Den Merch Shop teaches participants the elements of design and how to source materials to distribution, finance, and customer service. Students will have the opportunity to design their own t-shirts, market the apparel, and help develop the online shop where the t-shirts will be sold. This club taps into teens’ natural desire to express themselves through clothing while providing them with real-world design and business experience.
Thanks so much for your time, and readers interested in learning more about New York Edge are encouraged to visit newyorkedge.org.
The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.