Friday, October 16, 2009

Applying for Federal Stimulus Funds to Restore Night Centers to New York City Public Schools

Applying for Federal Stimulus Funds to Restore Night Centers to New York City Public Schools

I would like to propose that the New York City Department of Education apply for Stimulus Funds to re-open the night centers in the New York City Public schools, a fixture of life for young people in the City which was eliminated during the New York City Fiscal Crisis of the 1970’s

When I began doing Oral Histories with African American residents of the Bronx in the Spring of 2003 as part of the Bronx African American History Project (, many of the respondents I interviewed, especially those in between the ages of 50 and 70, mentioned night centers in the public schools as important factors in their personal and professional development.

From the early 1950’s through the mid 1970’s, every elementary school in New York City was open 3-5 PM and 7-9 PM for supervised recreation, staffed by licensed professionals who created a safe zone for young people as well as an opportunity to participate in sports and arts programs, play board games, and upon occasion, attend dances and talent shows.

The Center Directors, many of whom were New York City school teachers during the day, became important influences in the lives of young people they worked with. One of my interviewees, Howie Evans, a retired college basketball coach who serves as sports editor of the Amsterdam News, says that a Bronx night center director, Vincent Tibbs of PS 99, not only provided a model for Evans’coaching and youth work, he saved Evans life by blocking the center door to keep him from participating in a neighborhood gang fight. Several people I interviewed speak with equal reverence of Floyd Lane and Myles Dorch, directors of the Night Center of PS 18 in the South Bronx, who are responsible for sending scores of young people to play college basketball and helped hundreds of others avoid trouble and stay in school. In working class and poor neighborhoods filled with gang and drug activity, the night centers were the one place where young men and women could go where they felt safe, felt protected, and interacted with adults who not only taught them skills, but with whom they could talk to about problems with schools, family or their peers

Today, young people growing up in the Bronx, and other hard pressed neighborhoods of New York City, no longer either have this kind of safe zone or regular access to caring and sympathetic adults.

Ironically, the need for this kind of mentoring may be even greater today because family and living situations, for many young people, are more fragmented and chaotic than they were thirty or forty years ago. At a time when large number of youngsters are living in foster care, being brought up by grandparents, or reside in apartments that house multiple families, the need for adult supervised recreation is even greater than it was when the Night Centers were in their heyday. Teachers, preoccupied with test preparation and meeting standards, do not have the time to mentor their students in non academic areas, especially during the school day Privately funded community centers and recreation programs are insufficient to meet the needs of a million plus New York City school children

Reopening the night centers is the only program I know of that will instantaneously change the lives of New York City public schools students for the better. It will give them an opportunity to release tension, meet sympathetic adults, immerse themselves in sports and arts programs, and find a quiet protected place to do homework, while also providing a refuge from drug and gang acivity.
I could easily amass a large group of educators, coaches youth workers and elected officials to argue in favor of this proposal

I could think of no better use of Federal Stimulus Funds than restoring night center to the New York City Public Schools

Mark Naison
October 14, 2009