With homemade signs in hand, hundreds of students from JHS 190 in Forest Hills rallied up and down Austin Street this past Thursday to show support for their school’s Beacon program – a free, afterschool initiative that provides students with tutoring, leadership development and courses not regularly offered in a normal curriculum.
The march was part of the 13th Annual Lights on After School celebration, a national event where millions of students, parents and administrators rally to garner support for their afterschool programs.
“We do this to show people the value and significance afterschool programs have for young people,” Patrick Pinchinat said, Afterschool Ambassador with the Queens Community House and Director of the Beacon Program at JHS 190.
This Beacon Program, along with many other afterschool programs throughout Queens, were slated for the chopping block earlier this year because of mayoral budget cuts. But through the efforts of local politicians such as Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Assemblywoman Grace Meng, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), funding was restored.
At Thursday’s rally, those politicians were recognized for their service.
“I know how important it is for all of you, to fight for you and to fight for our community,” Council Member Koslowitz said to the hundreds of students gathered outside JHS 190.
After the budget cuts were announced, Koslowitz said that she fought with the mayor until he guaranteed the programs in her district would remain funded – a relief for the hundreds of working parents who rely on these programs to watch their kids after school.
Amanda Dimick, a single, working mother with four children, said that she would be lost without the Beacon Program. One of her boys are currently enrolled, while the others are eager to join once they are old enough.
“It gives him a safe place to go afterschool,” she said. “It also gives him a lot of positive male role models that he needs because his dad is not around as often as we’d like him to be. I just don’t know what I would do without them.”
The Afterschool Alliance’s Uncertain Times survey project, a research project that examined how the economy affects afterschool programs, found that nearly two in five afterschool programs, or 39 percent, report that their budgets are in worse shape today than at the height of the recession in 2008. More than three in five, 62 percent, of afterschool programs report that their funding is down from three years ago.
“We’ve had budget problems,” Pinchinat said. “Last year there was a big budget cut situation going on, but we got through it. That’s why it’s important to hold these events – to make sure we keep that funding.”
Elijah Prester, an 11-year-old student at JHS 190, said that he loves participating in the art and dance programs Beacon provides. “It allows me to do different things that I wasn’t able to do without these programs,” he said.
By Ryan Lavis