The new Roosevelt Island Beacon provider, the The Child Center of NY, is currently enrolling students for the 2017-2018 school year after-school program at PS/IS 217. They have been given a firm start date of September 18, and are busy trying to hire group leaders and activity specialists for the free program.
At an August 9 meeting at PS/IS 217, Nicholas Ferreira, vice president of youth development at The Child Center, told a crowd of parents and community members, “We are here to move together to work with the model you have, and expand services based on what you need, want.”
Reshma Baig (left), associate vice president of youth development, and Nicholas Ferreira, vice president of youth development, for The Child Center of New York.
Ferreira says the group’s initial focus will be on getting the afterschool program up and running for the Island’s sizable elementary school population. “That was a big takeaway [from the meeting]. We will have to build in a much larger elementary program. That’s the immediate need: to hire and get a program around those people right away.”
Some parents at the meeting expressed concern that there might be a reduction in the number of students who would be able to enroll in the Beacon program. Darryl Rattray, from the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), which oversees the Beacon programs, says no. Thanks to an increase in the program’s funding from $400,000 to $570,000, Rattray says he feels confident that The Child Center will be able to accommodate the same numbers the former provider did, if not more.
“We are here to serve the whole community,” says Ferreira, “Very literally to be a community hub.” In addition to providing after-school care, The Child Center will provide other community services, including teen programs, adult classes, and sports. “We’ve heard ESL (English as a second language) is a big need. Anything that people are willing to come out for, we are interested in providing,” he said. “We want to offer meaningful stuff to make a difference, and then offer quality-of-life stuff as well.”
The Child Center already has a relationship with Major League Baseball, who took some of their Far Rockaway Beacon participants to San Diego for the All-Star weekend. In the August 9 meeting, Ferreira mentioned adding competitive sports and travel teams as one possibility for the Island.
In taking over the Island’s long-established Beacon program, which was run for 22 years by the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, Ferreira says that he and his staff knew the process would be bumpy in the beginning. “We are very excited to be here, but I know it’s mixed reviews,” he said, alluding to the community’s response at the meeting and in online forums. Still, he says he respects how engaged parents have been. “Ownership of your community is great.”
According to some parents, those frustrations stem from what they see as poor communication from the school about the process for selecting a new Beacon provider. Parent Hyeyeong Lee sent her son to Beacon under the previous provider, and plans to send him to the new program this year. “What I am not comfortable with (I don’t think this is just my own feeling, but many parents’) is how the school kicked off the current provider looking for a new one, and how they informed parents.”
She thinks the school should have done more to reach out to Beacon families to see what they wanted and to explain why the principal was excluding the previous provider from applying. “Parents started to get confused, and got angry not knowing what was going on.”
Still, she says she was hopeful after attending the August 9 presentation. “Their programs are project-based so that kids can see what they have learned and how much they’ve improved themselves in the end. I liked this part. [The Child Center] looked experienced in education. I hope they will bring positive change to our kids and to [the] school,” she says.
Parent Kristin Braun was not impressed. “I think there are three areas of major concern. First, their total disorganization and lack of preparedness, coupled with their defensive and rude response to parent concerns. Second, their inexperience in caring for children who do not have special needs or serious trauma in their lives. And third, their inexplicable decision to forgo playground/outside/free play despite the hundreds of thousands of hours of research stating that it’s a must for optimal emotional, social, and intellectual growth.”
Ferreira believes his group will be able to win over concerned parents with time. In fact, his group has some experience with coming into a small, close-knit community. “We also operate in Far Rockaway, which is also an isolated area where they have their own culture. We were able to mobilize local officials out there, local businesses out there, who meet bi-weekly, even monthly, to do real work. So, even though we don’t know the details here, we know how to do work that would be really beneficial to the neighborhood.”
The most important hire, he says, will be a new program director, who will serve as a link with the community and the school. He said the group’s relationship with the school was off to a good start. “The first semester will be based off what we’ve learned thus far, but the school’s PTA has been super-helpful. We’ve been doing this work for 20 years, so we have an idea.”
As we were going to press, Ferreira informed The WIRE that Christina Mangra has accepted the position as the Beacon Director.
The Beacon afterschool program runs from 2:45 p.m., when school lets out, until 6:00 p.m. However, Ferreira committed to staying open until 6:30 p.m., “if that’s the need of the community.”
The enrollment packet is currently being ironed out. Part of that is figuring out which 13 school holidays Islanders would most like to see the Beacon open. Asked whether there would be a minimum requirement for enrollment, Ferreira replied, “Normally we love five-days-a-week commitment, but we are extremely flexible. When we get to three days, two days, one day per week, depending on the need for the program, it could become an issue. It might not be the best fit for the program, but I’m not saying no.”
According to the PTA, one or more Beacon representatives will be present at curriculum night at PS/IS 217 on September 13 to accept applications and answer questions. You can download Beacon registration forms and get additional information from the PTA’s website at 217pta.com/news/the-beacon-at-217.