By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — I.S. 289 isn't going down without a fight.
That was the message more than 100 shouting middle school students sent at a rally to save their after-school program on Wednesday afternoon.
"Are you going to let them get away with cutting this program?" Borough President Scott Stringer asked from the stage at the Battery Park City school's auditorium.
"No!" the students roared back.
The city, in order to cut its budget, has slashed all of I.S. 289's after-school funding, which pays for the sports teams, the theater program, robotics club, rock band, art classes and more, along with the after-school programs at more than two-dozen other schools.
The free, five-day-a-week program at I.S. 289, run by Manhattan Youth, serves 200 students, or two-thirds of the school's population.
"I can't imagine I.S. 89 without after-school," Principal Ellen Foote told the standing-room-only crowd on Wednesday. "This building would flat-line. There would be no life here at all."
In between politicians' speeches, students took the stage to explain what the program meant to them.
Rae Buttenweiser, an eighth grader, said she never would have gotten into the competitive LaGuardia High School if it wasn't for I.S. 289's after-school theater productions.
"It breaks my heart that some kids can't have experiences like mine," Buttenweiser said. "We always have fun. It's like productive fun — not the kind of fun we'd have if we didn't have after-school and wandered around on the streets."
The city tried to make the same funding cut to I.S. 289 last year, but after similar rallies and letter-writing campaigns, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and other elected officials won a last-minute restoration of $103,000 for the school.
"We saved it last year and we're going to have to save it again," Chin said Wednesday. "It's unconscionable for them to even think about cutting it."
The program is back on the chopping block, however, because the city looks to cut first in wealthy ZIP codes and does not see Battery Park City as a needy neighborhood.
However, I.S. 289's students come from all over the city, and over 40 percent of them qualify for a free lunch, said Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth.
Gabriela Breton, an I.S. 289 seventh grader from the Lower East Side who plays softball and does theater, said she is worried about how future students will fare without an after-school program.
"There is a feeling I get from being on stage that is like no other — a feeling no student should be deprived of," Breton said. "It's the equivalent of breaking up a family."