Fighting on Faile Street

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Fighting on Faile Street

Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

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Residents, with Councilmember María del Carmen Arroyo, spoke out against after-school program budget cuts at PS 75. “You are not alone in this fight,” she said.

The Episcopal Service Society (ESS) has provided after school care at PS 75 on 984 Faile Street for nearly a decade, offering homework help, art classes, step classes, academic enrichment, and even cooking classes.

The program also offers peace of mind to parents who are unable to pick up their children at dismissal because of work or study demands.

Michelle Matos is a mother of two students who are currently enrolled in the after-school program. Matos works as a licensed nurse practitioner at the nearby Urban Health Plan Center.

Before enrolling her kids in the program, Matos would often need to take them to work after school.

There, they would sit in the waiting room until Matos was done with work.

“It was very difficult,” she recalled.

Matos is also studying to become a registered nurse, so time she can devote to focusing on her studies is also precious.

“I’m trying to improve myself so I can improve my kids’ lives,” she said.

“When they come home from the program I see that they’ve done their homework, so I can start on mine.”

Matos and others joined together at a Speak Out Event held on Tues., Mar. 19th at PS 75.

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“I don’t know where else I’ll take my kids,” said Michelle Matos, whose two children are enrolled in the Episcopal Service Society’s PS 75 program.

Despite being a program parents and students rely on, ESS is unable to rely on funds from the city.

According to Biana Kovic, ESS’s Assistant Director for After School Programs, funds for after-school programs have been cut by 75 percent since 2007.

That year, there were 87,256 available slots for after-school programs.

If the Mayor’s cuts are approved this year, only 21,482 slots would remain for the upcoming school year.

“With more than 40% of Bronx children living in poverty, these cuts will be devastating to children and families,” said Kovic in a statement. “Children who attend child care and after-school programs do better in school, are more likely to graduate, and have lower incidences of violence, drug-use, teen pregnancy. These programs also allow working parents to keep their jobs – jobs that support their families and our local economy.”

Last year, after-school programs were saved from the threat of cuts after the City Council voted against the mayor’s proposal.

But the reprieve was only provisional and did not guarantee that the programs would continue receiving funds after the 2012-2013 school year ended.

Christine Rivera, ESS’s Program Director at PS 75, mobilized the staff and the students last year to protest the cuts.

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Luis Reyes, who works in construction, can’t pick up his son at dismissal; he fears losing his job if the program is cut.

“We sent letters and drawings to Bloomberg. We did everything we were able to do,” recalled Rivera, as she noted that PS 75 is the only public school in Hunts Point to have free after-school programs.

This year she plans on doing the same to battle for survival.

“Every year, we’re going to have to fight.”

She spoke on Tuesday evening before a school auditorium filled with parents and students.

Also present was New York City Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who allocated funds for the program last year.

As a result, this year’s enrollment increased from 140 to 250 students.

“I promise you I’ll fight in the City Council. You will have funds in September,” said Councilmember Arroyo. “You are not alone in this fight.”

Parents and students highlighted the importance of the after-school program.

“If we didn’t have this program, my wife and I would have to flip a coin to see who would have to lose their job,” said Luis Reyes, who works in construction and can’t pick up his son, Luis, at dismissal.

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“I’m a working mother,” said security guard Tallulah Johnson, with her two children, Jada and Lamar.

“I wish I had time to teach my daughter, but I’m a working mother,” said Tallulah Johnson, a security guard.

“I really enjoy it,” said her daughter Jada, 9, of the program. “I really hope Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t take it away.”

Johnson was glad that Jada and her brother, Lamar, 6, were able to have fun and learn new things after school. It was, in her opinion, a far better option than having her 14-year-old daughter pick them up from school and be at loose ends.

“I don’t want them hanging out at a park where they could get shot.”

As for Matos, she is not sure if it will be possible for her to continue pursuing her nursing license if her children cannot rely on ESS’s services.

“I hope this program will continue,” she said. “I don’t know where else I’ll take my kids.”