The afterschool program at my daughter’s school, PS 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, is one of the school's strongest selling points.
At 3:00 p.m. on Thursdays, when her kindergarten class ends, her teacher walks
her down the
hall to her creative drama class, which is taught by a professional actress.
It was a hard choice, given that my daughter also wanted to take tap dancing
and I wanted her to learn Spanish. When she gets a little older she can get
homework help, learn to play chess, or cook with the owner of one of
Brooklyn’s best restaurants. Almost all of the two dozen classes offered
daily are taught by the school’s teachers or other professionals in their
A third of the 780 students in the school attend the program, which costs
$12 a day; families get a discount for more than one child in the program.
But since there’s
no scholarship money available and half the school is eligible for free
lunch, it seems likely that many families simply can’t afford the cost.
So what do kids do from 3:00 p.m. until their parents return from
work? “There are a million kids in New York City public schools and a
million individual solutions,” says Susan Holman, a PS 261 parent and
treasurer of its after school program. “People use nannies, grandparents,
older siblings, college students, swapping with friends, taking kids to work
with you. It’s an incredible patchwork, and the reason it is that there’s
consistent coherent approach.”
While the lack of centralized data or funding
makes it difficult to find how
many children are in after school programs in New York City, an estimated
215,000 children in New York City ages 6 to 13 come home from school without
a family member to watch them, according to the advocacy group Citizen
Action of New
After school programs
are often created locally, from within a school’s
parent body or out of a partnership between an individual school and a
community-based organization, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs or the YM and
YWCAs, which often receive public funds.
It’s impossible to keep track
of every after school program in the city--although the Partnership for
Afterschool Education makes a good stab at it through its extensive
So it’s difficult to know if
programs will have the funds to return the next year and it’s unpredictable
which school gets a program and which neighborhood has none.
What is clear is
that many programs are threatened. Because of a budget battle in Albany over
funding for after-school, 14
programs in New York City serving 2,175 students have been eliminated
entirely and 27 have had their funding reduced by a quarter or more.In addition
to the state, funding for afterschool programs can also come
from the federal government, which just approved $1 billion nationwide, primarily
pay for its 21st
Century Community Learning Centers. But the New York City
Department of Education also funds afterschool programs through its Office
Development and School and Community Services, and Mayor
Michael Bloomberg proposed cutting $10.5 million from New York
City’s after school programs last year. In response, the Open
Society Institute, which created the Afterschool Corporation in 1998,
gave $20 million to New York City to support after school programs it runs
for city schools. The donation inspired the mayor to reinstate the cut
funds, which combined with the Soros money is dispersed by the Afterschool
Corporation in the form of grants to local programs.
Study after study shows
that structured after school programs, from tap dancing and chess for elementary
to homework help and substance abuse prevention for teenagers, improve
children’s experience in school--their attendance, their attitude, even
performance and graduation rate. A California study showed the reading and
math scores of children in after school programs improved at twice the rate
of all students nationwide, for instance.
Children who are set
loose at the end of the school day have been shown to be more likely to
smoke, use drugs and alcohol, be truant from school and have poor grades,
according to the After-School Corporation. Juvenile
violence and crime jump after school lets out; teenagers with nowhere to go
are 37 percent more likely to become parents.
And taxpayers are in favor of it. A new poll released
late last month by the
Afterschool Alliance found
that voters in general are overwhelmingly willing to use taxpayer money and
even pay more in taxes to fund after school programs.
“The days of school getting out early so the students could go home to
the cows are long past, but our policies still reflect those origins,” says
PS 261’s Susan Holman. “Clearly our school calendar does not match
reality of today’s working conditions.”
Sasha Nyary, formerly on
the staff of Life Magazine, edits the newsletter of The
Fifth Avenue Committee,
a community-based organization.
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