Monday, October 16, 2006

Students rally in support of after-school programs

Teens and children gather on steps of Borough Hall to show their appreciation for influential, positive activities

Friday, October 13, 2006

As the sun dipped low in the afternoon sky yesterday, packs of teen-agers loitered on the back steps of Borough Hall, pushing and heckling each other and aimlessly killing time.
But on the building's front steps, some 50 teens and children of elementary-school age gathered with purpose and energy: They carried banners and made speeches to support the after-school programs they credit with turning their lives around, as part of a nationwide "Lights On Afterschool" celebration.

"It's made a lot of difference," said Elliott Brathwaite, a junior at Port Richmond High School, who three days a week meets one-on-one with mentors, plays sports and video games and has rap sessions as part of the New York Center for Interpersonal Development's Project Success. "I used to be shy and now I'm a leader. I'm not afraid to speak up for myself and I have confidence."

The teen, whose grades and attendance were bottoming out before he joined the program [correction: unlike many in Project Success, Elliot has always been a good student] in January, now pulls an 80 percent average and works 20 hours a week as a cashier, a job he got in part because of his after-school mentors' help with his résumé. "You can talk to them one-on-one for tutoring or anything you need."

The New York Center for Interpersonal Development served nearly 1,500 Staten Island students in after-school programs last year at Port Richmond, Curtis, McKee, New Beginnings High School and PS 13, Rosebank.

The free-of-charge programs are among a number of after-school offerings Island and citywide that depend on grants and government funding to stay afloat.

This is the seventh year that the national, not-for-profit Afterschool Alliance has staged a "Lights On Afterschool" day -- with 7,500 such events held across the country -- to call attention to the importance of the programs, which keep children safe and educated and away from trouble while their parents are at work.

"These are positive places to go; the kids have a sense of community. I've seen kids go from being the ones starting fights in the parking lot to the kids trying to break up the brawls," said Mike Baver, a mentor or what students call a "personal advocate" in Port Richmond High School's after-school program. "I'll be playing Play Station with them and ask them how they did on their math tests. A lot of kids don't have those kinds of relationships. This is an opportunity for them to have positive role models."

Deborah Young is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at