Gov. Andrew Cuomo's latest Executive Budget, according to the governor's office, supports "an innovative program designed to transform schools into community hubs that integrate social, health and other services, as well as after-school programming."
In Sunset Park, however, the reality is more complex. The governor's $500,000 grant is quite welcome, but it builds on existing, high-demand "community school" projects operated for decades by the Center for Family Life (CFL), a program of SCO Family of Services.
The new funds will allow CFL to expand its five-day-a-week School Age Child Care/Afterschool Program at two elementary schools from approximately 175-200 students to 300 and ultimately 350. The provision of supervised and enriching programs from school dismissal time until 6 pm is a crucial in Sunset Park, where parents often work long hours away from the home and families are crammed into overcrowded apartments.
The three-year grant is directed at PS 503/506, which share a crowded, busy school building on 60th Street just east of Third Avenue. It's part of $15 million announced last month by the state Education Department, directed to 30 grantees around the state.
Given that the schools have 1,800 students, the ability to serve 300 means "there's an equal number of kids on the waiting list," observed Julie Stein Brockway, CFL co-director. Still, such multi-year public funding, Brockway says, helps CFL leverage private dollars and build more capacity. "For the last three years, we've been going in the wrong direction."
CFL began such community schools work in Sunset Park in 1978. It expanded to PS 314, which previously occupied the building where PS 503/506 are based, in 1983.
The grant will also support a teacher coordinator in each school. Thus, it formalizes a partnership between the schools, Lutheran Family Health Centers, and CFL to do what Brockway calls “deeper enrichment' around the state's Common Core standards.
The new funding also will help CFL add slots to its schools-based Summer Camp, serving 300 kids after shrinking the pool to 225, and support a performing arts-specialist and physical-education teacher. Also, the money will help CFL intensely serve ten "high-need children" in each of the two schools, aimed to improve their school performance and attendance.
Of the new funding, Brockway said, "It's meeting an important need—I want to be optimistic—but we could certainly reach more students in this intensive way, if the funding were more secure and more extensive." Of Sunset Park, she said, "It's a densely populated, thriving immigrant community with significant needs that are not met."
CFL's Neighborhood Center offers a variety of cultural, educational, and recreational activities year-round for kids and their families. That supports a supervised schoolyard, she noted, "but that's not the same" as an after-school program that incorporates specialists.
The notion of schools as "community hubs" is used in more than one grant-making context. For example, last year, a grant from the United Federal of Teachers, the City Council and the Partnership for New York City, supported a suite of services at six schools around the city, including Sunset Park High School, involving both Lutheran Medical Center and CFL.