February 4, 2014
Kayla had no issues speaking her mind when I sat down with her and her mom to talk about her after-school program at East Side Community High School. The only time she hesitated was when asked to pick a favorite subject.
“I love all the subjects so much,” she says earnestly, before eventually settling on English Language Arts. She’s the kind of kid who writes poetry, 12-page stories, and songs during her free time – the kind of kid who craves a stimulating, educational environment well beyond the limits of a school day.
Having been enrolled in after-school even before starting junior high school in September, Kayla can’t imagine her day without it; but she doesn’t exactly take it for granted either.
“I created electricity!” she beams, before launching into her experiences in her after-school science seminar.
Kayla and her peers were challenged to create a functioning electrical device using a few materials and a booklet as a guide. She remembers staring at the complicated diagrams with her peers, sure they would fail. “We were like, ‘what the heck, how do we do this?’ But when we presented it and flipped the switch, this thing would spin and fly up in the air.”
Her daughter’s enthusiasm is clearly infectious, and Kayla’s mother Noemi finds herself smiling at the story. Nevertheless, she wants to emphasize another point about after-school that affects her deeply as a mom.
“When you become a parent, safety is your number one concern. It’s not even academics or anything else, it’s ‘are they going to be safe, are they going to be ok?’”
She notes that the nearby Tompkin’s Square Park can be a hangout for older kids, and that there have been incidents that make her worry. Without after-school, many kids with working parents don’t have a place to go.
Noemi calls the kind of opportunities that after-school provides “essential”, but notes that not all kids are lucky enough to get a seat. “A lot of the after-schools cost a few hundred bucks a week. That’s somebody’s paycheck.”
And when kids from lower-income families miss out on after-school programs, they miss out on exactly the kinds of activities and experiences that make Kayla’s face light up. Noemi explains, “That science seminar Kayla was in, we couldn’t afford that on our own. It’s expensive!”
The point isn’t lost on Kayla. “The after-school program here doesn’t cost the parents any money, and that’s good news,” she says. “I’m signing the petition because every kid deserves to go to after-school.”