People are often confused when we tell them where our new partner school, P.S. 145, is located. The school is nestled in the tree and townhouse-lined Upper West Side, just 10 blocks from Columbia University, one of the greatest centers of learning, culture, and wealth in the country.
In stark contrast to our surroundings, P.S. 145 is a PreK-5 Title I school where 100% of students qualify for free lunch and 20% are English Language Learners.
The school community has immense ground to make up. Only 7% of P.S. 145’s students are performing on grade level in ELA, and only 8% in math. The school received an F for the 2012-2013 school year and was subsequently designated as a Focus school.
Schools like P.S. 145 cannot make all the changes needed to set students up for success with just the time during the school day. Enrichment activities seen as necessary by middle class families, like afterschool programs and summer camp, are crucial for the students of P.S. 145, as well. The arts, community service, and hands-on science experiments are the types of opportunities that inspire and enable youth to succeed in school and in life by connecting real-world experiences to school day learning. Our students need and deserve all of the additional supports that the children of our more affluent neighbors receive.
Despite this demonstrated need, P.S. 145 was turned down for a five-year Advantage After School grant by the state this July. Unfortunately, there was not nearly enough funding to go around, leaving more than 75% of applicants unfunded. Luckily, that was not the end of the road for P.S. 145’s students, due to generous donors to our program, After-School All-Stars —although it has been for too many other communities that did not receive funding.
We at After-School All-Stars feel fortunate to have been connected with P.S. 145’s new principal, Dr. Natalia Garcia, who will work with us to build a program that will keep her students engaged and learning for an additional 15 hours each week. Each day, 120 students will receive a healthy snack and homework assistance, then be able to choose from an assortment of enrichment activities such as gardening club, chess club, DJ class, martial arts class and a variety of seasonal sports. Moreover, all of these offerings will be led by highly trained staff and designed to support the development of 21st century skills like critical thinking, problem solving and team building.
This free program will offer students – 18% of whom live in temporary housing – a safe haven during the late-afternoon hours when they are otherwise likely to go unsupervised. In this additional learning time, students will engage in enrichment opportunities, create strong relationships with staff and peers, and obtain high-quality homework help and support. Research shows that after-school programs like ours make students more engaged in school and give them the skills needed to raise their academic performance. We plan to be essential partners to the turnaround of this school.
We are thrilled to offer these opportunities to the students of P.S. 145, and excited by the opportunities that Mayor de Blasio’s middle school after-school expansion, SONYC, is giving to tens of thousands of middle school students. We know, however, that there are still a million other students across the state without these valuable opportunities. I implore the city and the state to secure after-school programming for all students.
The co-existence of communities of wealth and poverty is a hallmark of New York City, and providing all of our students – no matter their zip code – with high-quality after-school programming should be as well.
Dax-Devlon Ross is executive director of the After-School All-Stars, NY/NJ