Rallying to save NIA afterschool programs at P.S. 229

P.S. 229’s brand-new auditorium shook with excitement on May 8, as students, parents, elected officials and community members rallied to save the NIA afterschool program at that location and three others in the area after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced it would be shut down in September due to budget cuts.

The NIA program runs Monday through Friday from 2:40 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. and throughout the summer. Not only does it provide homework help for nearly 200 students at each school, there is a rotating schedule of nine activities per day.

“It’s visual arts enrichment. They do drama, creative movement, mythology, literature,” said Linda Panza, who runs the NIA program at P.S. 229, adding that the cuts would go into effect on June 30. “Our summer camp will be okay, but there will be no afterschool program in the fall.”

Rose Weidler has two children at the NIA program: Gabriel, nine and Julia, six. “I can go to work and relax, knowing that my kids are safe with capable people and they are having fun,” she said.

Julia said she would feel “sad” if the program was cut.

“I would feel sad because I would have no place to go,” Gabriel said. “We do art, gym, sometimes watch movies, fitness, dance and literature – basically everything.”

Gwenn D’Amico has one daughter, Elizabeth, in the program at P.S. 229. “I can’t even think about it – I don’t know what I would do,” she said of the cuts, adding that she is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College and that her husband travels for business often.

“It just fits our schedule perfectly,” she went on. “It’s such a good program and it would be a shame to see it go. It’s an unbelievable service. It really is.”

Rosa Casella, executive director of the NIA Community Services Network, said that the cuts will affect the community as a whole. “It’s a workforce. Those who volunteer become paras and become employed,” she explained.

Casella went on to say that she was a single mother herself. “We have kids who need to be guided and in a safe place,” she said, noting that there was a petition circulating to save the programs.

Robert Zappulla, principal of P.S. 229, commented, “So many families need this support beyond the school day, especially our hard working families in the community.”

Andrew Gournardes, candidate for State Senate, also attended the rally. “Our kids deserve better than that,” he said of the possible closures. “The last thing this city should be doing is balancing the budget by cutting services that many local families depend on.”

There were also protests the same afternoon at P.S. 186, I.S. 281 and other schools around the borough to save the afterschool programs at those locations. A rally at P.S. 102 is scheduled for May 11 at 5 p.m.

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