By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday released a white paper detailing his plan to double the number of free, high-quality after-school programs for New York City middle school students, providing a slot for every kid who needs one.
Currently, about a quarter of the city’s middle schoolers, or 56,369 students from 239 schools, attend after-school. The planned expansion will reach nearly 120,000 children.
After-school programs encompass a range of activities, from homework help and tutoring to arts, science, chess clubs and sports.
“We are putting forward programs that will be game-changers for kids,” Mayo de Blasio said at a City Hall press conference. “I’ve seen with my own children what finding a passion in art or science can mean to someone at that age. This is a critical investment that will transform our schools—but it is also a powerful policy to keep kids out of trouble and fight the influences that can take them off the right path.”
Like Mayor de Blasio’s Universal pre-K plan, a tax on New York City’s highest earners would pay for the after-school programs. De Blasio has called on leaders in Albany to authorize the tax, but has run into resistance from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The Mayor and educational advocates are traveling to Albany on Tuesday to lobby for the tax increase, which would kick in for those earning more than $500,000 a year.
The Mayor hopes to have the new programs, to be provided by community-based organizations, in place by the next school year. "We’ll be utilizing existing classroom space and our existing community-based organization network," he said. "And with them, we can rapidly ramp up capacity."
De Blasio said the city would "upgrade all the slots across the board, adding hours and additional days so that every child has an opportunity to get up to 540 hours of enrichment" a year.
Besides adding educational enrichment to students' lives, de Blasio said that after-school programs would help kids pull away from negative influences on the streets. "It’s a very tough time for a lot of kids," he said."I can tell you – and anyone who’s been a middle school parent or anyone who’s had a middle school child in their lives will tell you – it is a strange and difficult time in a child’s life. I often like to say I am a recovering middle school parent.
"I think it’s as simple as this," he added. "A lot of kids when they’re in sixth grade, seventh grade, eight grade, unfortunately get pulled by those negative influences. They get pulled by gangs and crews. They get pulled by the availability of illegal substances."
In a statement, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña called the program expansion “a critical investment.”
“Middle school is a pivotal moment for student development, when children discover their interests, explore their passions, and grow intellectually. Expanding after-school programs not only reinforces classroom learning for middle schoolers, but also creates life-changing opportunities,” she said.
Current after-school programs are offered by a variety of partners. The New York City Department of Youth and Community Development offers free after-school including Beacon and Out-of-School Time programs, along with neighborhood Development Area programs for low-income neighborhoods.
Other programs are offered by independent groups, such as Breakthrough New York, which offers tutoring to a limited number of talented, low income students.
Many middle schools, however, like M.S. 8 in Downtown Brooklyn, provide after-school programs that parents must pay extra for.
M.S. 8’s "Cre8" program lists such classes as guitar and ballet, fencing, marine science and journalism, along with homework help and other academic enrichment. A ten-week session costs families between $100 - $200, with some classes requiring additional material fees.
The after-school white paper was prepared by the Department of Youth and Community Development, Department of Education, Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.