It was a cold and cloudy day in February when Kiasia Truluck stood in front of the first location of the Beginning with Children Charter School, one of the city’s original charters. The building was the old Pfizer company’s plant in Brooklyn, which the pharmaceutical company renovated and donated in support of the school. Wearing a dark gray funnel-necked coat and black rectangular glasses, Truluck, now 24, recalled the profound impact the school had on her life.
It was a school that opened in 1992, long before charters were approved by New York State law. And it was a school that taught her the power of giving. For example, as part of an effort to raise money for Hurricane Katrina survivors, each class in the elementary and middle school took part in an activity. Truluck and her sixth grade classmates organized a walkathon around the school’s track field. The kids convinced family and friends to sponsor them. She recalled their event was a bit disorganized.
“We may have walked around the track once or twice,” she laughed. She could not remember how much they raised but she remembered being so proud that she and her classmates made a difference. “Our parents were so happy that we cared about something.”
It was a school where Kiasia’s mother, Kimora Truluck, said Sonia Gulardo, the school’s principal at that time, “knew every child’s first and last name and every parent’s first and last name. She did not forget a face.” The regular potluck dinners created a sense of camaraderie. Those meals, where Kiasia’s mother would bring fried chicken and lemon cake, planted the seeds for a community where classmates and parents became a family. She described her years there as “coming to school to see your family.”
Last month, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the Beginning with Children Charter School would close at the end of this academic year. With operating support from the Beginning with Children Foundation, the school opened in Williamsburg in 1992 and later converted officially into a charter school. The foundation’s CEO and Board Chair Nancy Kurz said her organization withdrew its support after the 2013-2014 school year following years of declining test scores and unresolved issues with the teachers union contract. The school was never able to get back on its footing. Truluck said that it was upsetting that Beginning with Children is scheduled to close at the end of the school year.
“I was in shock mostly,” said Truluck when she learned the news. “I feel like it’s a horrible thing.”
The school and its partnership with the Beginning with Children Foundation were instrumental in opening up opportunities for her to find her professional career. She took part in an internship program sponsored by the foundation called the Beginning with Children Legacy Leader Summer Internship program. It paves the way for economic mobility for low-income students and families. The foundation pays students the minimum wage rate and it locates opportunities for students to volunteer in the community.
Now a 2015 graduate of St. John’s University with a master’s degree in international communications, Truluck works as a publicity assistant at Dan Klores Communications, a public relations and management services firm. She credits her time in the program for the job she has today and she still uses the skills that she learned in the program.
For the high school portion of the program, students take part in a nine-week afterschool professional development training. Participants learn job interview skills, cover letting writing, business etiquette, resume writing and how to dress for the office. They also learn computer skills such as Excel, where said Truluck learned how to budget money using the program’s spread sheets.
Kimora Truluck recalled that her daughter use to watch the television show “The Practice,” a legal drama, which fueled her initial interest in studying law. The Beginning with Children Foundation found her an internship at a law firm. The summer position had an unexpected outcome.
During the summer of 2009, the foundation matched Truluck with the office of Michael Meyers, a civil rights attorney and currently the director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. She recalled that Meyers made some remarks to the media which resulted in his office being inundated with telephone calls. Truluck, who assisted with administrative duties as part of her internship, was one of the people fielding calls.
Meyers noticed how calmly she handled the situation. When his office held a press conference to discuss education reform a few weeks later, he included Truluck in the planning process and she assisted at the event. Afterwards, she realized that she enjoyed the communications aspect of the job more than law.
“I went from my wanting to be a lawyer to a public relations professional,” said Truluck of her experience.
The following summer, the foundation’s staff helped her secure an internship at a public relations firm. However, she forgot one of the interview tips they taught her—not to put your purse on the table during an interview and to carry a bag that will hold a resume. “I remember putting my bag on the table when I did the interview. It was not a good professional bag either. It was a purse that hung off the elbow,” she said. She had to fold her resume in thirds so it could fit inside her purse. When the interviewer gave her a compliment on her handbag, she realized her mistake. Truluck took the remark as a subtle reminder not to place her purse on the table. Truluck did get the internship at Arcos Communications, a public relations firm but she never forgot the lesson again.
It also assisted her with her college search. Because of her interest in communications, the foundation helped her focus on undergraduate schools with accredited public relations programs. She enrolled in SUNY Buffalo, in 2009 and graduated four years later. She also pursued a master’s degree in International Communication at St. John’s University and completed her studies in 2015.
The internship program, which a student must apply and be accepted, serves an average of 20 high school and 20 college students annually. The program is open to alumni of the Beginning with Children Charter School and the Community Partnership Charter School. The Foundation opened this school in 2000. The goal is to offer work experience and career advisement to graduates who are primarily Black, Hispanic and low-income. Some of the placements include the office of New York City Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, the NAACP, Phoenix Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, Eastside Construction and the Piper Theater.
According to the Foundation’s figures, 94 percent of its graduates completed high school on time and 98 percent were accepted into a college over the past five years. They have attended schools such as Harvard, Wesleyan, New York University, and CUNY and SUNY colleges. The Foundation does not have data on alumni who are in graduate school.
Programs such as this provide students with the career knowledge and job skills to secure long term employment. In the February 2016 “Expanding Economic Opportunity for Youth Through Summer Jobs” by JPMorgan Chase, the report states that summer employment programs provide benefits for teens such as workforce readiness, skills development and increased graduation rates. According to its figures, 20 percent of young people seeking employment are not able to find work.
By 2025, the report continues, 65 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require some postsecondary education, training or credentials. The financial organization, which donates $6 million in support of summer youth employment programs, based its findings by examining summer youth work programs across 15 U.S. cities.
Summer work programs and its impact also provide inspiration for families. Truluck’s father, who dropped out of high school in the ninth grade said he instilled the importance of work to his daughter. “The first word I taught her to spell was j-o-b,” said William Harris. The family lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.
“She understood that she needed to get herself a good job and an education and she would be all right. From where her father and mother come from and for her to excel, it means a lot,” he said in a telephone interview. “For her to do that and coming from the area where she comes from, that’s an achievement.”
For Truluck, the closing of Beginning with Children means the end of an era. She enjoyed her years there and wanted to have other students to have the same experience, “I feel like there are going to kids that are going to be missing out on the things that I got and it’s unfortunate.”