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The Battle to Save Crucial After School Programs

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Educational Alliance Teen Center students Mariah, Nadia, Andrea, Maranda and Bianca with tour guide at Cornell College.

Andrea Scott has an infectious smile. She rattles off a list of activities – dance, poetry club, raising money for kids in Africa — faster than I can write them down. Like most teenagers, she’s a little bit torn about whether to go to college close by  or far away from home. But a couple of years ago, withdrawn and struggling emotionally, it didn’t seem all that likely Andrea would being going to college at all.  Her turnaround can be traced to the Educational Alliance’s remarkable after school college prep program. But in spite of its 100-percent success rate, the “Edgies” Teen Center is one of 88 after school programs the city is abandoning in order to balance next year’s budget.

Citywide, the budget cuts mean almost 11 thousand kids will have nowhere to go after school. Now the Educational Alliance is spearheading a campaign to restore the $6 million cut by the Bloomberg administration. They already have 2600 signatures on a petition that will be delivered to the mayor at a City Hall rally June 10th.

To find the secret of the Teen Center’s success you need to look no further than Amarilis Perez, the program director.  She’s many things to these kids – friend, task master, cheerleader and mentor. Perez says, first off, the center is a safe haven. When a teen was stabbed in Seward Park, he was brought to the Educational Alliance. The kids trust Amarilis and the other staff members. 15-year old Nadia Reveron, who lives in a housing project three blocks away,  says she used to be “in the streets” until 10pm doing things “I knew I shouldn’t be doing.” Now she has her sights set on the University of Albany.

Bianca, Maranda, Andrea, Nadia, Jenny, Michelle, Jin Fang during the Teen Center's college tour in April.

In addition to providing more than 30 activities in the arts, sports and community service – “Edgies” offers all sorts of college prep services. There are special SAT classes, tours of college campuses, assistance applying for financial aide – all completely free. Danny Rosenthal, Educational Alliance senior vice president, believes the program is so effective because it’s separate from the schools. Offering the program in the confines of a community center makes all the difference, he says. Given the fact that fewer than 50-percent of the students in New York’s schools graduate on time, it’s hard to argue with that.

Rosenthal says the city gives the Educational Alliance about $120,000 each year for the Teen Center – private donors add another $200,000. But here’s the rub: since most of the private money was awarded because the Teen Center is a recipient of city funding, they face the prospect of losing both sources of financial support. Rosenthal says he would try to retain as much of the program as he could, but it would be a shell of what it is now. There’s a chance federal stimulus funds could save the day, but that would only be a temporary solution.

A spokesman for the Department of Youth and Community Development told the Daily News the city decided to eliminate the 88 after school programs because serving younger kids is a higher priority. Rosenthal says he could understand budget cuts in a brutal recession but the wholesale elimination of so many programs seems extreme.

Andrea Scott will be helping to lead the charge on June 10th. “This is my family… I don’t know what I’d do if there was no Edgies,” she says.

To sign the e-petition (the goal is 10-thousand signatures) or to find out more information about the Teen Center, visit the Educational Alliance’s web site. We will have video coverage of the rally a week from tomorrow.

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  1. Yea, um, that second picture is on the campus of Syracuse University, not Cornell. Right area of NY, just about 30 miles off.

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