LOWER EAST SIDE — More than 500 people packed into P.S. 134/P.S. 137 on East Broadway Thursday night to rail against the mayor's proposed cuts to after-school programs.
Elected officials rallied the crowd with chants of "What do we want? After-school! When do we want it? Now!" and then handed the microphone to a handful of the more than 27,000 children who are slated to lose their after-school programs in the fall.
"I am frightened about what will happen to me if after-school ends," said Alexandria Woodcock, 10, a student at P.S. 110 on Delancey Street. "I am afraid of some of the people in my neighborhood…. I feel like the city doesn't even care about us kids."
The rally occurred several hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled his executive budget, which slashes nearly 200 free after-school programs for elementary and middle school students across the city.
More than 2,000 of the lost after-school spots are in Lower Manhattan, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said.
"Our Lower East Side community will be particularly hard-hit," Silver told the crowd at P.S. 134/P.S. 137 Thursday night. "We can't afford to let these programs be cut. We can't allow our hardworking families to be left without childcare. It's not right, and it must not stand."
Children in the audience waved hand-colored signs and cheered as drummers from the Henry Street Settlement's after-school program and hip-hop dancers from the Educational Alliance's Edgies Teen Center showed off their skills.
The capacity crowd overflowed out of the auditorium and onto the sidewalk, where police controled the number of people who entered the building to ensure the rally did not become a fire hazard.
Many parents said they turned out because they wanted to show how important after-school programs are to the community.
"It's a safe haven for [the children] to come to," said Maria Casiano, 37, a Lower East Side resident whose daughter attends the after-school program at P.S. 134. "It's horrible," she added of the cuts, "a lot of parents need it."
Yasmin Bracero, 30, a single mom, said that without P.S. 134's free after-school program, there wouldn't be anyone to watch her 9-year-old son.
"I rely on it to be able to go to work," said Bracero, who is a general manager of a homeless shelter. "Without this program, I wouldn't have a job."
Students at the rally said they like getting help with their homework, seeing their friends and playing outside.
"I'll be really sad," Amanda Villa, a fourth-grader at P.S. 63 in the East Village, said of the cuts, "because I'll have to take the school bus home."
Elected officials suggested that anyone who is concerned about the mayor's budget cuts call 311.