Budget cuts to extracurricular activities and after-school programs have been a threat to public schools around the nation for years. But this year, the budget proposed to the City Council by Mayor Bloomberg will cut millions of dollars to fund these programs, resulting in the closure of many.
But as the threat of these cuts loom over the heads of thousands of families who depend on programs like the Queens Community House Beacon program at Russell Sage JHS 190 in Forest Hills, parents, teachers, counselors, politicians, students and others are not going down without a fight.
“We’ve done everything from petition signing to call-in days,” Patrick Pinchinat, the director of the program, said. “We’ve been participating in rallies but what we need to do is support everyone’s events. Even though we’re in different areas, when one program closes, it affects us all.”
In order to promote the power of after-school programs and inspire the students who utilize them, Pinchinat arranged for a screening of the 2012 documentary “Brooklyn Castle.”
“There aren’t many films or documentaries about after-school exclusively,” Pinchinat said. “A lot of this is happening citywide but having it shown through this medium hasn’t been the case. This is a really great way to unite everybody and start to highlight what’s been happening.”
“Brooklyn Castle,” directed by Katie Dellamaggiore tells the story of the IS 318 chess team. At the Title 1 school, located in Williamsburg, approximately 70 percent of the students are below the poverty line and yet, they have won 26 national chess titles, more than any other school — public or private.
“We played a lot of privately funded schools like Dalton but it all came down to who put in the most effort and the fact that a public school that had almost no money can win, shows that you can have all of the money in the world but it can’t always help you succeed,” Alexis Parades, one of the students profiled in the film who also came to visit the Beacon kids at Russell Sage.
Even though the Queens Community House doesn’t have an award-winning chess team, seeing kids their age succeed at something great engaged many of the students right away.
In the film, Dellamaggiore introduced us to kids like Justus Williams, who, at age 10, was almost a master level chess player — he has since reached that goal — and Pobo Efekoro, the leader who isn’t afraid to be himself and now attends Forest Hills High School.
“The location doesn’t make all the much of a difference,” Dellamaggiore said. “There are after-school programs around the country that face budget cuts. It’s an uplifting story everyone can relate to, no matter where you’re from.”
Pinchinat said that Dellamaggiore and the After-school Alliance will host several screenings across the city this week for after-school programs.
If the city budget doesn’t change by June 30, after-school programs across the city, including the Russell Sage beacon will shutdown on July 1.
“We’re a support to the parents, the school and the community,” Pinchinat said. “We have to continue to fight and advocate until the very end because if we don’t do anything, we’ll definitely get the cut.”