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Brooklyn Parents Battle After-School Program Closures

WILLIAMSBURG — When the School Settlement after-school program closes in September, Wanda Andreu has no idea what she will do with her 7-year-old son each afternoon because both she and her husband work through the evening.

"It's a hardship for me not to have the program," said Andreu, an office manager who also sent her two older children to the program on Jackson Street. "I would be devastated."

Andreu is joining other parents, advocates, and public officials this week to protest the city's after-school cuts that take effect this fall.

Half of Brooklyn's 153 free after-school options will be cut, leaving thousands of parents in a panic.

"It's really unacceptable for parents not to have options for after-school care," said Lai-Wan Wong, director of the Youth and Education division of the local nonprofit St. Nick's Alliance, which helps run the School Settlement program. Wong said 300 families will be affected by that program's closure alone.

"They're essential support for working families and improve the educational attainment of the children," said Wong of the after school programs.

St. Nick's Alliance is holding forums at School Settlement, which serves children in kindergarten through 5th grade, at P.S. 34 on Norman Avenue and at P.S. 18 on Maujer Street in the next week to discuss possible steps for families in light of the cuts.

The group and parents are participating in a citywide protest on Wednesday, called "Lights Out," to speak out against the cuts. The Williamsburg group expects about 1,000 people to protest, starting at Graham Avenue by the BQE at 4:15 p.m., and marching eventually to the 90th and 94th police precincts stationhouses.

"We feel like this is a huge safety concern, not having kids supervised," said Wong.

She noted that many Brooklyn parents said they would be forced to leave their children at home alone without an after-school program, citing a recent survey by the Campaign for Children in New York City.

In the survey of nearly 600 Brooklyn parents, 32 percent of the families said they would quit their jobs to stay home with their kids and 28 percent said they would leave their children home unattended once the after-school programs were cut.

Beth Lubeck, principal of P.S. 132 in Williamsburg, where School Settlement operates, said after-school care was crucial for families at her elementary school.

"We have many working families here and we depend on School Settlement," she said, noting that her 5th graders held a bake sale last week to raise money for the program's survival.

Many students begin attending the program at age five, Lubeck said. "It's like a little home away from home for them," she said.

Andreu said she felt that having her son attend School Settlement was necessary to keep her job as an office manager at a dental practice in the neighborhood, which she took to stay nearby.

"I may have to quit," she said. "Leaving him at home would not be an option."

But she said that situation would make her family' financial situation untenable. "We're a two-parent working household and we absolutely need two incomes," she said.

Andreu, who uses the Settlement's after-school and summer programs, called the quality "exceptional."

"It's the only one I trust," she said, adding that her 2nd-grade son works on science, math, homework, drama, artwork and computer skills in the program.

"They provide academics, they provide nutritional snacks. They give everything they could provide."

The city's Department of Youth and Community Development, which oversees after-school programs, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.