Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
I.S. 89 students wrote the Youth Dept. commissioner last week protesting the cut of the after-school program. “Thank you in advance for reading this letter; you are probably too busy taking the fun out of children’s after-school lives,” one letter began.
A firsthand lesson in city budget cuts
By Julie Shapiro
With humor and heartfelt reasoning, more than 250 students at I.S. 89 wrote to Youth Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav last week and told her exactly what they thought of her decision to cut I.S. 89’s after-school program.
“It’s not good for the students,” said Justine Kwok, a seventh grader from Brooklyn, after finishing her letter. “Kids won’t have anywhere to go.”
Faced with a shrinking budget, the Dept. of Youth and Community Development axed the $120,000 Manhattan Youth receives each year to run the free I.S. 89 program in Battery Park City. The city also cut the programs at 32 other schools, based on the zip code where the program is located. Hundreds of programs in less wealthy zip codes were not cut at all.
After learning about the city’s decision in social studies lessons last week, Kwok and her classmates proclaimed the cuts unfair.
“It’s not good to assume that a school is wealthy just because it’s in a wealthy neighborhood,” Kwok said. “They should take a little bit from all the schools.”
I.S. 89’s students come from all over the city, including many from Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Over 40 percent of the students receive a free lunch, which qualifies I.S. 89 as a Title I school.
Cindy Chong, an eighth grader who grew up in Battery Park City and now lives on the Upper West Side, said that distributing the cuts evenly is “the most reasonable solution.”
Chong has played softball and performed in theater productions through the after-school program. When she gave tours of I.S. 89 for prospective students last year, after-school was the thing they were most excited about, she said.
While Chong and Kwok made logical arguments in their letters, Daniel Figueroa took a different tack.
The seventh-grader from Greenwich Village started his letter to Mullgrav thus: “Thank you in advance for reading this letter; you are probably too busy taking the fun out of children’s after-school lives.”
Figueroa said he wanted to catch Mullgrav’s attention.
“I felt very strongly about this,” he said. “Every kid deserves to have something to do after school — not just be bored and watch TV.”
Christina DeLouise, a reading and writing teacher at I.S. 89, said the students were immediately enthusiastic about the letters, and only one student asked whether the assignment was graded.
“They want to be heard,” DeLouise said. “At this age, it’s all about what’s unfair.”
DeLouise’s main task was to teach the students how letters look and sound, since the middle schoolers are more accustomed to texts and e-mails, she said.
Dozens of I.S. 89 parents also wrote letters, some of which were in Chinese, Principal Ellen Foote said. Foote added her own letter to the stack and sent copies to Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Councilmember Margaret Chin last week.
Ryan Dodge, spokesperson for the city Youth Dept., said in a statement that spreading the cuts over all the city’s after-school programs “would weaken the entire system…and impact tens of thousands of children.” Dodge did not know whether the letters had arrived yet, but he said the office would respond to each writer individually. Upon hearing that there were about 300 letters, he said, “We’ll do our best.”