Games Today Create the New York City Leaders of Tomorrow

“I always welcome anything that will better me as a teacher and an educator.” –Oriana Pantoja

Read to Lead isn’t just teaching students how to become leaders in their communities. Teachers themselves are also becoming leaders. Bronx resident Oriana Pantoja started teaching with Children’s Aid Charter Schools in 2016 as a summer camp group leader, and made the leap  into the After School Program’s school year program as a facilitator and Program Director. She oversees three schools of seventh graders from Tier 1 schools on a daily basis.

The Children’s Aid After School Program uses Read to Lead as part of a literacy component twice a week, focusing on different objectives for different grade levels: Sixth graders play Community in Crisis, Oriana’s seventh graders play Vital Signs, and eighth graders play After the Storm.

“You’ll always have those kids who can see right through an activity, so we try to find different motivations. We love the progress chart, so it becomes a competition for them,” Oriana says. “Because it feels like a game, some of the kids lose themselves in it, they become so immersed. It’s engaging for them, and it’s nice to see that they have fun with it.”

But the results of using Read to Lead speak for themselves and add up to more than just fun and games.

In Ms. Pantoja’s after school program, a number of her students are English Language Learners (ELL), whose first language is Spanish. Read to Lead’s translated version keeps these students from falling behind in school, while also improving their English language skills and teaching them about context and making choices based on the information given.  

“Last year, when [these students] were in sixth grade, there were numerous students learning English, but they didn’t have the confidence to read out loud or participate in group events, so they would just read in the corner,” Ms. Pantoja says. “Now that they feel like they’re succeeding in something, it boosts their confidence. These same kids are able to participate more. They are stepping up to read aloud, and it’s a whole new level of confidence.”

The results of Read to Lead can also be seen in how Ms. Pantoja’s seventh graders relate to their community. Rather than one large project at the end of the semester or school year, she aims to have her students lead and complete one community project every other month.

This past December, the students made over 150 holiday cards for residents at a local senior center, and the kids wrote about the experience for their student-run magazine. They also make time to check on some the residents, and are currently putting together a dance recital to be performed for the seniors later this year.

Ms. Pantoja loves seeing the improvement of her seventh graders, and the strides they make, as well as learning to become involved members of their community.

“Last year, when [my students] started the program, they were mostly in 1’s and 2’s for the state tests. This year, the results are even hitting 4’s. Honestly, we may have to help them lower their egos because they think they don’t need to keep learning!”