The fate of a 17-year-old Park Slope afterschool program for low-income families remains tentative as the organization struggles for funding.
The IMANI HOUSE almost shut its doors twice in the last two years when its major contributor, the city’s Department of Youth & Community Development, ended its funding. The program managed to secure finances from the city council, but the organization’s contract expires this year and its future remains uncertain.
IMANI HOUSE offers free or inexpensive afterschool tutoring, recreational activities, leadership development and conflict resolution training for over 160 children from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. Although it operates out of Park Slope’s Primary School/Middle School 282, the center serves children from all five New York City boroughs.
If the program is terminated, founder and Executive Director Bisi Ideraabdullah said at least one parent in most of the affected households will be forced to take a part-time job or quit work to take care of their children after school. These parents cannot afford tutors, babysitters, nannies or private programs.
“There should be afterschool care for any parent that requests it,” she said. “The government is being unrealistic; we know that parents have to work now. This isn’t a country where the woman can stay at home. The government should be supporting programs like this so people can work. It needs to be in every school.”
Brooklyn College education assistant professor Meral Kaya said such programs boost students’ social, reading, math and science skills as well as improve overall class performance.
“If we cut off the help that was working because of the economic situation then we are widening the gap for [students] to be successful,” Kaya said in an email. “This means a bad investment for the future of education, schools, teachers and students and work areas. These programs somehow equalize the opportunities between mainstream and struggling/lower income family students.”
Following the elimination of the program’s funding this year, parents formed petitions, organized rallies, attended press conferences and wrote letters to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and local Brooklyn politicians advocating for support. Their actions caused the city council to ultimately restore funding through a discretionary fund.
The program costs approximately $300,000 annually — $245,000 of which used to be covered by a city grant. That sum was reduced to $221,000 in 2010 and $214,000 this year or $184 per child monthly. Financially stable families pay a reduced price for these services. In an average class of 150 students, 34 pay and 116 are offered free spots. Khaldia Emanuel, whose seven and 10-year-old daughters attend the center, said she initially paid $450 a month for both children, but now pays $100 because she was recently laid off.
“They’re open minded and definitely willing to work with you,” Emanuel said. “They are willing to adjust the price depending on your employment status.”
This diminished investment in afterschool facilities is inopportune as the number of overcrowded classes in New York is larger now than it has been in the last 10 years. According to a survey compiled by the United Federation of Teachers, almost 7,000 classes have sizes over their contractual limits — 1,000 more than last year. This means that roughly a quarter of all students enrolled in public school spend at least part of the school day in an overcrowded class. Coupled with the layoff of 672 New York City teachers earlier this month, afterschool programs are more vital than ever. Children need additional educational and recreational services to compensate for the lack of one-on-one attention and resources during school hours.
According to Ideraabdullah, the center’s funding was cut this year strictly because it is located in Park Slope. The city doesn’t recognize the neighborhood as an at-risk area. Despite increased gentrification in Park Slope, Ideraabdullah said the students who benefit from her program represent Brooklyn’s neediest zip codes. Up to 85 percent of the children commute from other neighborhoods and 66 percent live in low-income areas.
“The school is unzoned,” Ideraabdullah said. “We are within walking distance of two housing projects, Gowanus and Wyckoff. … Park Slope is not all it’s made out to be in terms of affluence. This used to be a hugely Hispanic area, a low income Hispanic area. There’s still a huge pocket of poverty.”
The IMANI HOUSE’s other two Brooklyn locations offer a weekly food pantry and adult literacy program. The organization closed its job development office in April and afterschool high school leadership program last year. However, many job development services are now offered in the center’s headquarters that serves about 350 people annually.
In anticipation of the potential elimination of the center, Sonia Bennett, whose four, seven and nine-year-olds attend the center, said she is dreading taking time off work.
“I was thinking of working something out with my boss,” Bennett said. “I hope it won’t come to that, but it’s going to be tough — especially during the holidays when school is closed, but you have to work. Then, by the time summer comes around, you’re out of sick days and don’t know what to do.”
The program lasts three hours after school or a full day during 13 national holidays and school breaks. Aside from offering tutoring services, the center also arranges field trips, provides meals and hires professionals to teach activities ranging from cooking and tap dancing to fencing and karate.
Bennett said these extracurricular activities allowed her middle child to become more extraverted.
“My second child was a little shy and now after doing drama she is much more confident,” Bennett said. “It boosts their self-esteem.”
Andrew Adoba, Dept. of Youth & Community Development communication officer, said the agency in 2005 identified 77 zip codes with the highest need for free afterschool programming based on neighborhood poverty levels and number of single parent households. Forced to scale back funding due to budgetary constraints, the department cut 33 programs in 2010 outside of those zip codes, including IMANI HOUSE.
“These programs are invaluable,” Adoba said. “They help bridge the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the work day. … When it came to these 33 programs, it came down to having to deicide different zip codes that have other services available.”
IMANI HOUSE will need to reapply for funding by the end of the year. Adoba said some money will be set aside for the non-target zip codes.
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