Forest Hills beacon could shut its doors by July 2012
by Lisa A. Fraser
Mar 28, 2012 | 7928 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students from the JHS 190 Beacon Program speak at a CB6 meeting.
Students from the JHS 190 Beacon Program speak at a CB6 meeting.
The Russell Sage Junior High School 190 Beacon Program, which is on the chopping block and could close by July 2012, is gaining support from a children’s advocacy group in hopes that the program's doors could remain open.

The Campaign for Children became involved last Friday, urging Mayor Michael Bloomberg to reconsider his plans to cut not just the J.H.S. 190-based beacon program, but another at M.S. 158 in Queens, and five others across the city.

“We are already seeing the devastating effects of the Bloomberg administration’s cuts to child care and after-school programs,” said Campaign for Children spokesperson Emma Woods. “These closures mean that thousands of young people will be left without the educational, enriching after-school environments that help them succeed in school, and thousands of parents will be forced to scramble to find safe places for their children while they’re at work.”

The mayor is proposing the cuts for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget and the Campaign for Children says that his plans would slash after-school program capacity for 31,800 children

“This is just the tip of the iceberg," Woods said. "With the mayor’s proposed cuts to child care and after-school programs, more than 47,000 children and families face this same crisis this year.”

This is the fifth straight year that the mayor has cut child care and after-school programs. And the Campaign for Children says that his latest proposal will result in 90,000 fewer children having access to these programs than in 2009 – a 61 percent decrease.

The J.H.S. 190 program has been a target for budget cuts for months, after an announcement last year that its funding was more than the city could afford.

Local politicians Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, as well as Community Board 6, all expressed their support for the program. Hevesi sent a letter to the mayor in February urging him to reconsider closing the program given its success within the community.

A spokesperson from the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) said the decision to cut the seven programs was to help meet a $2.1 million financial gap.

“This is not a decision taken lightly, and we appreciate how valuable our 80 Beacon programs are to families across the city,” said spokesperson Cathleen Collins. “To ensure that communities are not disproportionately impacted, DYCD used objective measures, including population and poverty data and program distribution, to determine which sites to close.”

The Beacon program at Russell Sage Junior High is targeted for closure because the 11375 zip code is more affluent than other areas. Hevesi and others argued that the program’s location doesn’t prevent it from serving students and parents in desperate need.

“This program, while located in a low-needs zip code, is overwhelmingly serving minority youth, and the success of the leadership development curriculum attracts students from all areas in Queens,” Hevesi said in his letter.

The program’s popularity has allowed it to serve on average over 1,100 students each year, despite its contractual obligation with the city only requiring the enrollment of 950 students.

J.H.S. 190 Beacon Director Patrick Pinchinat said that his staff, as well as the students who benefit from the program, will not give up fighting to save it.

“It’s disheartening, you never want to see your program on the list, but we will continue to advocate," he said. "We have proof and evidence to support what we do.”

The Forest Hills beacon program has served the community since 1998 and Pinchinant is concerned about what will happen to the middle school and high school students if the program is indeed cut.

“We serve about 100 middle school kids every day after school and 50 high school kids every night at our teen center,” he said. “If cut, they’d all be on the street or going home with no supervision. It would be a huge void.”

Collins said that DYCD understands the impact the closures will have on the affected neighborhoods and will work closely with residents to identify other youth services available in the community.

The department is also encouraging young people and parents to access DYCD’s Youth Connect at (800) 246-4646 or to find out about jobs, afterschool programs and training opportunities.

Despite the news, Pinchinant has hope that the program will be around for decades to come.

“We have a social responsibility to our youth to prepare them for the future,” he said. “When you threaten to cut something that’s accessible and beneficial to them, what type of message are you sending?”

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