In a time when funding for arts education and afterschool programs are either in danger of being drastically reduced or eliminated altogether, one national event presented by Afterschool Alliance hopes to show how important these initiatives are, not only for students, but their parents and communities as well.
The event, which launched in 2000, currently features more than 8,000 participants nationwide.
Two Bronx schools participating in today’s Lights On Afterschool national initiative, Bronx Writing Academy and Jordan L. Mott middle school, offer a textbook example of what Afterschool Alliance strives to accomplish.
“These schools have been at odds—there’s been a lot of gang violence and rival gangs—and this is the first time there’s been a collaborative effort between them in this community,” Jim Pugliese, supervising director of Learning through an Expanded Arts Program (LEAP), told Metro. “We’re empowering through the arts, social learning and team building.”
Pugliese began working withJordan L. Mott students12 years ago. In addition to being located in the country’s poorest congressional district, “it was one of the 12 most violent schools in the city at the time,” he said. “Now these kids are working together.”
Today’s joint effort betweenJordan L. Mottand Bronx Writing Academywill feature a musical theater performance that highlights the history of the nation’s afterschool programs. The students have been rehearsing for nearly two months.
The performance will also showcase some of what LEAP has to offer, such as drama, hip-hop, singing and costume design.
LEAP currently runs 10 afterschool programs at locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. In the Bronx alone, Pugliese saw participation in Lights On Afterschool grow from 180 kids last year to 250 this year.
“This is a community that never had this opportunity where kids could go to dance, art, music or photography programs before,” he said. “We also see a big parent outreach and have parents come (to events) and then take that (experience) home with them.”
For the kids, though, Lights On Afterschool is an opportunity to celebrate their hard work, especially this year with the two schools working and being creative together for the very first time.
“They can see the fruits of their labor, and it inspires them to continue their afterschool program for the rest of the year,” Pugliese said. “You can feel it when you go to this performance.”
For Edgar Lin, the principal ofJordan L. Mott, this year's Lights On Afterschool has already gone beyond the auditorium where today's performance will take place at 4 p.m.
“I'm moved to tears every day when I look out my window around 4:30 and watch kids of (the two schools) interacting positively together,” Edgar said in a news release. “I don't know if anyone would have imagined that possible just two years ago. We're on the cusp of something amazing, and the work that LEAP and its staff does is imperative to that happening."
The Lights On Afterschool ( www.leapnyc.org) performance is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at the schools on East 167th Street.