Staten Island Advance (commentary): De Blasio must save summer programs — now!

Posted May 7, 2018

By Councilmember Debi Rose

Although only early May, parents on Staten Island, and across New York City, are already planning activities for their children for when school lets out this summer.

For the thousands of working families whom I represent, having a place where their children can be safe, active and engaged during their summer break is crucial.

For many, summer programs in community-based organizations are the answer.

They keep our children engaged so that they continue to learn outside of the classroom; they ensure our children’s safety so that they spend summers in an active, supervised environment instead of on the streets; and they provide important work opportunities for older youth, who often serve as counselors.

That is why I and my colleagues in the City Council are very concerned that the Mayor’s budget eliminates funding for free summer programs for 34,000 middle school students–including more than 1,200 here on Staten Island.

Summer programs are a key support for middle-income working parents. In fact, in a survey of 2,500 parents with children in summer programs, the Campaign for Children found that nearly 90 percent of parents rely on summer camp so they can work or go to school, and that their children learn crucial academic skills while in summer camp. Nearly two-thirds of parents also reported that they relied on the free meals at summer camp to ensure their children receive nutritious meals.

One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most important and successful investments upon taking office was the expansion of middle school after school programs now known as SONYC.

The SONYC initiative expanded access to after-school programs for middle school students so that every student who wanted a place in an after-school program could have one.

SONYC is operated entirely through community-based organizations that provide programs in schools, public housing developments and other community spaces.

Last month, I visited one of those programs, run by the Police Athletic League at the Petrides School. The organizers there told me that they already have more than 40 children signed up for their summer program. But without funding in place, there will be no program this summer and these families will be turned away.

As the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Youth Services, I have led my colleagues in calling for the City to restore this funding, and when the Council released its official response to the Mayor’s Budget, we called for these programs to be part of the City’s baseline budget so that they would have consistent funding. We were further disappointed that the mayor did not include these in his executive budget, released at the end of April.

I sincerely hope the Mayor will adopt our recommendations — and do so this month, so that parents and community-based organizations can properly plan. As the mayor himself said of the SONYC program, “We’re growing tomorrow’s leaders, keeping kids safe and busy while parents are at work, building their confidence and closing in on the achievement gap.”

(Debi Rose is a Democratic member of the New York City Council, representing the North Shore.)

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