YMCA helps save some after-school programs at Leland

October 17, 2013
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The YMCA has helped revive after-school programs at Leland Elementary School this month that otherwise would have been canceled.

Some programs officially started this week at Leland, while others will launch the rest of the month, said Leland music teacher Valerie Betts. They include an engineering program and a Joffrey Ballet dance class.

But until Oct. 8, these programs did not exist, Betts said in an interview last week.

When AustinTalks visited Leland Oct. 3 it was unclear what the status of the popular programs were.

Many parents said they didn’t know about the after-school programs, while Principal Loretta Brown-Lawrence refused to comment, referring AustinTalks to Betts.

Then, five days later, the principal announced the programs would restart and were being funded by the YMCA.

“Up until yesterday we really had nothing,” she said last week.

Last year, when the school was operating as May Community Academy, there were a number of after-school programs, including the Joffrey Ballet dance program and a drumline club.

May closed in June along with nearly 50 other elementary schools across the city, and Leland Elementary took over the building at 512 S. Lavergne Ave., combining its students with the students who had attended May.

The fate of May’s after-school programs was in question as they awaited approval by Principal Brown-Lawrence.

Some of the after-school programs were funded by outside groups, but May had to pick up the remaining costs, Betts said. This meant Leland would have to do the same.

CPS’ central office should set aside funding to pay for schools’ programs so they don’t have to find ways to fill the gap, said Brandon Johnson, a community organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union who lives in Austin.

But David Miranda, a CPS spokesman, said the system is set up to fund programs in different ways. Some after-school programs are funded by line items in the CPS budget, the state or federal government, grants or “third parties,” Miranda wrote in an e-mail.

Last year, the YMCA as a third party helped May fill the gap, said YMCA spokeswoman Brie Callahan. The school had $20,000 left that can be used for only the fall 2013 semester, which Leland is free to tap, she said.

Leland’s principal told staff in September there wasn’t going to be programs, Betts said.

The YMCA approached Leland administrators Oct. 7 on its own to remind the school that it could use the $20,000 designated for May, as long as it was used this semester, Callahan said.

The next day, the programs were officially reinstated.

Both Callahan and Betts said they don’t know how Leland will fund after-school programs – if at all – for the spring semester.

And not everything was saved – drumline remains axed because the school can’t fund it with the other programs, Betts said.

Eighth-grader Trayvon Williams said he’s been doing the Joffrey Ballet and drumline programs for years at May. He tried out for both during the first two weeks of school this year but was told the programs had not yet been approved.

He didn’t know they were canceled.

Trayvon said he’d be sad if drumline was cut because “it’s been (at May) for so long.”

Asif Wilson, who taught at May until it closed earlier this year, said so many students would turn up for drumline at May, there had to be tryouts.

The team helps teach students about community building and team work, he said, adding that it takes a lot of discipline to learn the skills.

Kids who loved that program are now losing another reason to show up to school every day, he said.

“When you have a kid who is wondering whether school is even purposeful … that student had drumline before. What is going to engage them now?” Wilson wonders.

Still, Betts said she’s happy the school can even provide the other programs.

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