Leader of the Month: Ben Colas
Posted on 04 January 2018
I came to Cleveland in 2013 as a Teach for America corps member. After a rough year teaching 4th grade at a charter school (police called on me for taking away recess, chairs thrown at me, etc), I taught kindergarten. Given that I am not a fan of snot, crafts, or tears, I was a bit skeptical, but it ended up going well. We had strong academic growth (5 year olds were doing multiplication!), and I loved the opportunity to help a child's initial educational experience be one in which they knew they were safe, welcomed, valued, and held to high expectations.
After my time in the corps, I joined the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) where I currently teach kindergarten, serve as a Real Time Teacher Coach for other teachers in my building and work in the Talent Acquisition Department as a recruiter. In 2015, my first year in the district, 1 out of my 26 kindergarten students recognized any letters on the first day of school. 2 recognized numbers. Many had a never held a pencil before. As a result, it took until around Thanksgiving to get the students to where they should start the year. This meant that even if we had strong growth, students would still be behind at the end of the year.
To address this, I created KinderKits, a kindergarten readiness kit (www.kinderkits.com) which helps families gain an understanding about what their child needs to know entering kindergarten and how those skills can be taught using everyday items. Since inception, over 5,500 KinderKits have been distributed throughout Ohio. Last year, after receiving KinderKits, 17 of my students recognized letters on the first day of school (as opposed to 1 the previous year) and the increase in readiness was a major factor in significant improvement in our grades' standardized tests. The increase in readiness has resulted in my students being able to learn multiplication and division (3rd grade work) before Christmas. KinderKits are now assembled by people with developmental disabilities, providing meaningful work while expanding our capacity to grow and reach families beyond Northeast Ohio.
While working on KinderKits over the past 2 years, I have gotten to know the Cleveland Kids' Book Bank (www.kidsbookbank.org) which is doing incredible work and has distributed nearly 1,000,000 children's books. The books they provide play a critical role in helping to develop a love of literacy among kids and families. Becoming a strong reader that can change a child's life and open up doors they never imagined.I'm thrilled that 10% of YXU's sales this month will support the Kids' Book Bank and excited to have you on this journey promoting literacy in Cleveland.