Chelsea lacks free after-school programs



The Hudson Guild Elliott Center in Chelsea. Photo: Jinsol Jung.

At around 4 o’clock in the afternoon on any given weekday, Marisa Fundora — a grandmother to three kids, ages 5-month, 5 and 8 years old — sits with a group of parents who watch their children play at a park in the Fulton Houses, a public housing apartment in Chelsea. Fundora, whose daughter works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as an administrative assistant at XPO Logistic, takes care of her grandchildren after school ends until their mother gets off work.

That’s because there are only a handful of free programs in the Chelsea neighborhood, which still desperately needs them. Although the median income has climbed to $140K, there are several public housing projects, about 3,000 families that make less than $50,000 – and a large school-age population.

Those who scrape by don’t have extra money to pay for programs. Fundora lives at the 160-unit Fulton Houses and says that some families in the area barely have any money. “If they have to turn around and pay it back to the schools, they’re going to be left with nothing. It’s not something they’re too keen on,” stated Fundora. 

Some pay more than they can afford. Maritza Rosado, a resident of the Fulton Houses and a mother of two, said “back in the day, they had free after school programs, free tutors would come one or two hours a week.” Now, Rosado – who works as a receptionist at the Jewish Community Relations Council — says she pays $150 per day for a tutor to help her 12-year-old daughter.

Tyshawn Floyd, also a Fulton House resident and a father to a 4-year-old, said that a lot of people need free after-school programs. “Especially for those single parents, it’s really hard.” Floyd – who works at Whole Foods, but has flexible hours — said he’s looking to send his child to the Hudson Guild after school, which is one the few free programs in the community. Its K-8 program can accommodate 180 students, about 25 per grade level.

Some of the residents at the Fulton Houses were surprised to find out that after-school programs at nearby public schools were not free. Fundora says that Chelsea charges for after school-programs because it wants to be known as a wealthy area. “PS 11 is like ‘I need to be that type of school,’” stated Fundora. PS 11, which is the neighborhood K-5 school for most Fulton House residents, charges $17.25 for each ninety-minute after-school class, according to the school website.

According to a study by the Teachers College at Columbia University, titled “Can After-School Programs Help Level the Academic Playing Field for Disadvantaged Youth?” students “who spend more time in after-school programs – particularly during adolescence – may derive greater academic benefits than youth who spend less time in programs.”

The Hudson Guild provides one of the few free after-school programs for children in the Chelsea area. According to Kenneth Adams, the SchoolBridge coordinator at the Hudson Guild, they have three main feeder schools – Public School 11, 33, and Guardian Angel School – and the staff pick up students from those schools when classes get out.

The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget would cut federal funding for after-school programs by more than $1 billion. Federal funding currently goes to programs serving two million kids, most of whom are from a lower socioeconomic status.

“I’m not as worried,” said Adams of the proposed budget cut, “but I am cautious.” He says that this has happened before. “The city would start taking away funding over the years,” at which point the group would hold rallies, meet with city officials and eventually get funding somehow.

The Hudson Guild gives priority to the parents in the community, including residents of the Fulton and Elliot Houses. There is almost always a waitlist and kids must have around an 85% attendance rate to hold a spot, according to Katelyn O’Neill, the SchoolBridge social worker at the Hudson Guild. “When kids start to come only once or twice a week, then we call the parents and let them know that there are people waiting to get into the program,” she said.

The YMCA seems to have the opposite problem. Greg Mateo, director of teen programs at the Westside YMCA, says they are always trying to recruit more people to participate in their free after-school program at 63rd Street and Central Park West — but there aren’t any housing projects in their vicinity and most people in the area are well-off.

Another part of the problem is “when you hear ‘YMCA’ you don’t think of youth development, you think of swimming and aerobics,” said Mateo. “It’s a bit of an uphill battle in terms of community reform.” The Y is trying to do more outreach and educate people in the community to let them know about teen programs at the Y.

A playground at the Fulton Houses in Chelsea. Photo: Jinsol Jung.

Rosado said she doesn’t understand why the city doesn’t invest in resources for children. “The city doesn’t invest in these parks, the swings need to be fixed, the floors, it needs to be cleaned. And because they have all the new buildings/construction, this place is infested with rats. I just don’t get it,” she said.

Tracey McMillian, Fulton House resident and mother of two, ages 3 and 7, isn’t surprised. “It’s New York, so it’s expected,” she said. “They’d rather build more buildings and they don’t want to put money into after-school programs.”