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After-School Programs Lose Funds

by Besa Luci, Jul 30, 2007
 

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Every afternoon during the school year, tens of thousands of New York City children stay after school, and many of them like it. While they enjoy activities, such as arts and crafts, games and homework help, their parents welcome the sense of security from knowing their children are safe, occupied and well taken care of.

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But for 20,000 city students that could change this year. In New York City, 118 after-school programs will face major budget cutbacks, and some will have to shut down entirely. The federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has declined to offer the programs another year of funding. Although the programs also receive support from New York City and New York State, Washington was the main source of funding. The learning centers’ funds were distributed through the state education department.

The endangered programs, which have been receiving funds since 2003, have been barred by the federal government from applying for a new round of money.

THREATENED PROGRAMS

Good Shepherd Services funds two after-school programs in the Bronx, one at MS 206, the Ann Mersereau School, and the other at M.S. 118, the William Niles School. The programs offer arts, science, homework help, student government, peer leadership and community service. But the center has already informed parents that the programs might close down and has warned staff about lay-offs. Each of the programs has one full-time employee and 20 part-time workers

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Cutbacks After School:
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“Unless we raise funds we can’t support the programs. We need $185,000,” said Jim Marley, director of Bronx Network for Good Shepherd Services. “It’s terrible and unfair. Children do great in these programs. It’s a proactive and positive approach, and they don’t get into trouble.”

In Bay Ridge Brooklyn, a non profit organization, offers an after-school program at PS 170, the Lexington School. This program serves 220 students and has a waiting list of 60.

Christie Hodgkins, director of after-school services at CAMBA, said that the program will remain open but will have to scale back. ““We know we are going to have to cut 60 to 80 slots and that is significant because there is already a need greater than what we are providing,” she said.

Even programs that will not feel the effects of the cuts immediately fear for their futures. Global Kids, a nonprofit organization that focuses mainly on after-school programs for high school kids, has sufficient funding for at least two years. But the organization’s director for after-school programs, Evie Hantzopoulos said, “We don’t know what’s going to happen two years from now. Every year this is the challenge of doing youth development and nonprofit work: anything can happen from year to year because there isn’t enough of a commitment I think from our government.”

A coalition of schools, community and youth leaders secured $7.5 million from the state for the threatened programs. But this number falls $23 million short of the amount needed to fully fund all endangered programs for another year. Lucy Friedman, president of the After-School Corporation, which supports programs in 322 New York City schools, said foundations could make up some of the shortfall. Advocates also hope the state will come through with additional funding.

FILLING A NEED

Proponents of after-school programs say they offer an array of benefits. Friedman said that, besides providing a safe place for students to be after school, they also help students academically.

“They help because [the students] are engaged in activities -- whether it is karate or dance or photography. They are engaged in activities that help them advance, but also keep them off the streets or being home alone,” she said. “Those are hours that are most dangerous for kids both in terms of getting involved with drugs, getting pregnant, a time when they find trouble and trouble finds them.”

According to a report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization, juvenile crime is more frequent between 3 to 6 p.m. As a result, after-school programs help decrease crime rates.

The Afterschool Alliance, another national nonprofit, conducted a formal evaluation of after-school programs and how they affect kids’ behavior, safety and family life. The group’s report concluded, “After-school programs help keep children safe, have a positive impact on behavior and discipline, and help relieve parents’ worries about their children’s safety.’’

And the need for such programs, supporters say, does not stop when children become teenagers. Hantzopoulos said high school students in particular require dynamic and meaningful after-school programs because they are going though a transitional stage.

“They need these opportunities because they want to do positive things, and we have a responsibility to provide them with programs that will help them develop, succeed, make a change and feel good about themselves,” she said. “Sometimes we are too quick to penalize them, put them in jail.” Arguing that it is “in our best interest to provide more tax dollars for after school programs,” Hantzopoulos said, “Maybe if we had more resources we wouldn’t have some of the situations we have right now.”

 


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