They were the last people the mayor ever expected to get involved in city finances and budget cuts. But the elementary school students at P.S. 2 in Astoria may have been the tipping point in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to keep after-school programs open throughout the city.
The Out-of-School Time (OST) Program was planned to be cut at the end of this school year due to budgetary constraints, but it was saved in late June after more than 100 parents, students and teachers protested with signs made in art class. There are 33 OST locations throughout the city, including 17 in Queens.
This lopsided imbalance would have had the most significant impact in Queens, which prompted Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. to get involved. After attending the rally and speaking with those who would be affected, he personally spoke with the mayor, and may have helped to change his mind.
“It’s a great feeling for everybody,” said Vallone.
The program at P.S. 2 is run by the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee (HANAC), and serves about 175 children between the ages of five and 12, with 150 on a waiting list.
It provides kids with a safe and productive way to spend their free time after school, while participating in structured, educational activities. With no other after-school programs within a 15-minute walk, most of the children’s parents would have been forced to quit their jobs to watch their kids after school if the program was cut.
“A community of hard-working parents can continue to work and support their families in this very difficult economy, knowing that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment,” said John Kaiteris, Executive Director of HANAC.
This program will affect hundreds of children and families throughout the borough. Vallone said that he’s already received many calls from parents who were very grateful for what he helped to accomplish.
“I was extremely happy to have been able to save our police and fire departments,” said Vallone, “but saving this one particular program really touched my heart.”