A new after-school program for 270 kids from the poorer families of Cambria Heights, Queens, is slated to open today, but not without some protest by local groups claiming it would erode academics at an elementary school that has just started to see a rise in test scores.
Beacon, a city-funded program of social services and recreational and educational activities for students deemed “at-risk,” was slated to open at PS 176 last week to replace a similar program cancelled by officials at a neighboring school that had to clear out for an upcoming asbestos abatement.
Soon after School District 29 officials approved the location this summer, however, state Assemblymember Barbara Clark, a Cambria Heights resident, joined the 235th Street Block Association in decrying the program. Beacon, said Clark, would bring “undesirables” into the mostly middle-class neighborhood. “These parents just worked together on a new math program to bring up scores and this will be destructive for the school,” said Clark. “We have got to stop the slippage.” The number of fourth graders who passed the math test jumped by 10 percent to 68 percent this year.
School board officials and many parents–some of whom collected signatures supporting the program every morning last week–called those notions ridiculous, since nearly all the children signed up for the Beacon already go to PS 176. Parent-Teacher Association President Meris Bailey noted that FEGS, the human services group contracted to run the program, bent over backwards to accommodate Clark’s concerns, limiting weekday enrollment to kindergarten through fifth-graders. (Most Beacons serve kids through high school.)
When Clark still complained, parents accused her of stirring up opposition just to score political points with certain local residents as she enters an election year, charges Clark calls “an absolute lie.”
After all this, last Thursday, the parents’ efforts succeeded: Administrators at the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, which funds the program, agreed the Beacon would open.
“These are our kids, this is our school,” said City Councilmember Juanita Watkins, who lobbied the city for the $450,000 program. “It was as though we were bringing in aliens from Mars … to PS 176.” Clark did not return calls seeking comment on the city’s decision.