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Op/Ed: Saving After School Programs Critical to LES Kids

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Robin Bernstein, Educational Alliance.

The following op/ed was submitted by Robin Bernstein, president and CEO of The Educational Alliance:

This year, Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Budget will leave 16,000 kids without after school programs, due to an alarming $23.4 million cut to maintain these crucial programs (known as Out of School Time or OST programs). If this measure is enacted in the budget to be adopted later this month, 150 programs citywide would close, depriving working class families of what has proven to be an essential support. This massive cut will impact numerous programs on the Lower East Side and would leave thousands of our youth without a safe place to go after school, and without an outlet for academic support, personal development and creativity – and without alternatives to the destructive activities such as gang violence and teen pregnancy.

As the President & CEO of the Educational Alliance, a community-based nonprofit organization here on the Lower East Side, I have seen first-hand the great impact that these vital programs have on our youth. Every day, 1,400 low-income youth learn and grow in our after school programs. Without restoration of these critical funds, we will need to close 5 out of our 8 programs and significantly reduce the number of youth served in the rest of the programs. Close to 900 kids will have nowhere to go after school and many of their parents will be compelled to quit their jobs to ensure their kids are supervised after school. Even furthermore, 90 people from our agency alone would lose their jobs.

Research shows that children who participate in after school do better academically and on standardized tests. They are less likely to use drugs or become teen parents and more likely to graduate from high school.  And our experience certainly substantiates the research.  As few as 22% of 9th graders on the Lower East Side read at grade level and local high schools have graduation rates as low as 13%.  But 100% of the low-income high school seniors in our College Prep Program (the culmination of our after school curriculum) have graduated from high school and attend college – and we are so proud that one of the youth in our programs, previously at risk of failing, has been named his class valedictorian!

The students in the Educational Alliance’s programs do not get academic, arts, and health and wellness enrichment anywhere else. Their public schools do not provide arts or sports programs, and their parents cannot afford to pay for SAT classes or arts education.

Through our after school programs, lives are transformed. Many of these children are growing up in public housing or visiting a parent in prison, but they are going to become leaders as adults, taking up such professions as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and public servants. And their children will do the same. By improving one child’s life, we are opening possibilities for entire families and communities for generations to come. We are replacing the cycle of poverty with a new cycle of hope, achievement, and growth.

The Educational Alliance is part of the citywide Save After School Now campaign to save these programs. Please consider signing our online petition and joining us on Facebook to help us urge Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council to restore funding to these indispensable programs.

Sincerely,

Robin Bernstein

President & CEO, The Educational Alliance

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