As City Council members negotiate a multifaceted city budget, scores of parents, teenagers, and education advocates stormed the steps of City Hall last week to remind local legislators about the importance of dropout prevention programs.
Members of the Williamsburg−based youth and leadership group, El Puente (211 South 4th Street), joined Good Shepherd Services, United Way, and several other citywide partners in the Dropout Prevention Initiative at City Hall last Wednesday to demonstrate against proposed cuts of $2 million for the education programs.
Last year, El Puente was asked by Councilmember Diana Reyna to take over dropout prevention funding slated for the current fiscal year because of the work they have been doing in providing after−school programming out of their Williamsburg facilities, particularly the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice (250 Hooper Street).
There are 960 students enrolled in El Puente’s after−school programs, though El Puente staff members believe that the number of children and families affected by their outreach programs may be closer to 1,300. The funding, about $75,000, was expected to bolster El Puente’s current budget and would continue next year.
“All of our services form a compendium of prevention activities. We don’t consider it prevention. We say hey, how do you empower yourself,” said El Puente Special Assistant for Programs Theresa Doherty. “We weren’t asking for more. We’re used to doing a lot with little.”
The programs vary from one−on−one tutoring and small group mentoring to enrichment services such as drama productions and arts workshops and career services training. For example, Paul Ala, an El Puente student, recently received an internship with Mark Ecko’s Sweat Equity productions. So far he has designed a car for Nissan and put together a design for a watch that is currently being sold through Macy’s.
“We want to keep them through school, empower them for post−high school operations, and work with them to find internships for a potential career in the arts or other organizations,” said Doherty.
Elizabeth Perez, who has a 13−year−old daughter who uses El Puente’s services, joined Doherty and several other parents at City Hall last week to ask for a restoration of the proposed budget cuts.
Perez credits El Puente with helping her daughter graduate from middle school with extensive math tutoring and proving a dramatic outlet for her to explore her acting and DJing skills and even learn some technical skills on several Apple computers.
“Her school couldn’t help her and I could not afford to take her to private teaching,” said Perez. “El Puente was able to enroll her in an after−school program to help her out.”
It was her first ever trip to City Council chambers and she described the event where she met several councilmembers as “a great experience.”
“I felt I was doing something very good for children and the community,” said Perez. “They can’t do it without the parents. City Hall needs to hear the voice of the parents and the community.”