By Alejandro Lopez de Haro
Sherry Rodriguez is a single working mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9, who attend the Out of-School-Time (OST) afterschool program at P.S 282 Park Slope School. The OST programs provide students in neighborhoods across the city with a variety of academic, artistic and recreational activities free of charge.
They last for three hours after school or for a whole day during selected holidays. Rodriguez says that without this program she would be forced to leave her job as an auditor at 2 PM, take extra days off during school holidays, and might be fired as a result because her employer expects her to work from 9 to 5 PM.
“Because of this program I am able to work and give 100 percent to my job,” says Rodriguez.
A study by the After School Alliance, a nonpartisan nonprofit that evaluates after school programs, has found that Rodriguez’s experience is not unique. It reported that last year 74 percent of parents with children in OST programs found it easier to keep their jobs. Another 73 percent stated that they missed less work than prior to their children’s enrollment, while 71 percent said they had been able to work more hours.
“Jobs are very hard to find now. If a parent loses their job, I don’t now what they would do,” said Bisi Ideraabdullah, executive director of the Imani House, a non-profit that assists low-income families and administers the OST program at P.S 282. The Imani House estimates that roughly 80 percent of the students in their program come from households with working parents. Single working parents rely heavily on this program in order to keep their professional lives. “They really don’t now where to turn. When it’s half day at the school, they beg us for help,” said Ideraabdullah.
During various school holidays, the OST program can be helpful. The P.S 282 is open for 20 holidays.
Hiring a babysitter or enrolling their children in a private program is not an option for the majority of these parents. “We know that the people we are serving are low income,” said Ideraabdullah.
P.S. 282 Park Slope has a total of 728 students from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade. According to a study by Fiscal Policy Institute, 46 percent of black males in Park Slope and Red Hook are unemployed. According to publicschoolreview.com, blacks make up 71 percent of the student population in P.S. 282. The same website also states that out of the total number of students, 44 percent are eligible for free lunch and 12 percent are eligible for reduced lunch. Both numbers are slightly higher then the New York state average.
The low income demographic in the afterschool program is much higher. Imani House research found that 80 to 90 percent of the children attending are accessible to free lunch. There were a total of 160 students registered in the program last year. Within these, the first 130 attend for free and the remaining 30 are able to enroll by paying a below-market fee.
Sonia Bennett, an accountant and resident of Park Slope, has two daughters, ages six and eight who attend the after school program at P.S. 282. She is one of the parents that pays a small fee to enroll them in the after school program. Bennett has done research to find another place for her children. The Imani House charges between $185 and $195 a month. Bennett explained that the other places had weekly fees that were similar to the monthly payment, which she makes to the Imani House.
Funding for the OST programs has been given yearly through a five-year grant that is allocated at the Department of Youth and Community Development’s discretion. The grant will expire this year, and funding for next year’s OST program is not certain. “When a program ends, the city can carry it for an extra year, but does not have the obligation,” said Ideraabdullah. This year’s funding was almost removed due to citywide budget cuts.
“No program is guaranteed funding for more than one fiscal year, and if we had lost the restoration fight this year, the fight for next year might well have been over before it started,” said Councilman Lewis Fidler. He is a supporter of these programs and currently chairs the Youth Services Committee.
“I cannot afford a babysitter, I can’t afford to not have a job or some of the other after school programs,” says Rodriguez who is quite bothered about the financial issues of the program. The parents plan on fundraising during the year in case the worst happens. However, Rodriguez admits that it will be quite difficult. The parents lack time and money.