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The Marble Hill Community Center
On a Wednesday afternoon in May, Lissa Erazo arrives at around 2:10 ready to start her afternoon at Marble Hill Community Center in the Bronx. “For the most part, I do enjoy working here, I feel needed by the kids and the staff,” says Lissa, group leader of the third graders. “I am more useful vs. just working for the money.” The rest of the staff begin to arrive shortly after Lissa. Some counselors get ready with their walkie talkies, clipboards, and pens. They set up their rooms with snacks for the arriving children.
Meanwhile, the rest of the staff watch the clock hands to set out for school-pick-up. The counselors from the after school program pick up the majority of the participants from Public Schools 207, 7, and 37. Some participants arrive with their parents, being one of the first to sign the sign-in sheet. “It’s a place to relax and let your hair down,” comments Janis Quiles, group leader of the sixth graders. “There are less rules but still rules that need to be followed. The children learn how to socialize. They are still learning and having a good time.” At around 3:05, lines of colorful backpacks are visible, walking towards the community center.
Marble Hill Community Center (MHCC) was originally run by New York Housing Authority, which lost money and put MHCC up for sponsorship. The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) took them up on it. DYCD is an organization that administers city, state, and federal funds to community-based organizations. DYCD looked for an organization to run the after school program. Children’s Arts & Science Workshops, Inc. (CASW) put in a proposal. CASW runs programs to reinforce academic skills, encourage access to higher education, and develop career goals. It inspires youth to become employable and self sufficient.
CASW took over MHCC on January 21st, 2008 giving children of grades K-6 a place of comfort, encouragement, and love. DYCD now sponsors Marble Hill’s after school program. Geromino Ruiz, the supervisor of the program says, “We started out with twenty-two children and now we have about one-hundred-thirty enrolled. We receive about seven applications per month.” The program is cost free to all children.
By 3:25 the rooms are filled with children, noise, happiness, and filled bellies. Five minutes later the children are receiving homework help. All parents of the participants are satisfied and pleased with this part of the program, “My son receives homework help here and doesn’t have to bring any homework home,” says Jose Quintana, father of Anfernee Falcon, a sixth grader. “In all aspects he is benefiting from the after school program.” Homework help runs an hour long, giving children enough time to complete homework and have spare time at home.
In the Partners In Reading room, Mondays and Tuesdays are for some first and second graders. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the third graders are all in the room with Claudette Smith, the teacher. Partners In Reading runs for two hours straight, helping the children with the English language, from reading and writing, to speaking out loud. This Wednesday the third graders’ task is to write about what they’ve gained from Partners In Reading. Kayla Ortiz wrote, “Partners in Reading has improved my reading and writing. I am learning more and I read and write at a different level.” Elasia wrote, “I am improving my sharing [skills] and learned how to write paragraphs.” “He’s improving his writing, and literature skills thanks to the Partners In Reading activities,” says Hereni Roman, about her son, Christian Roman.
By 4:30 the children have completed their homework and are ready to move on. On a Wednesday, Kindergarten has arts & crafts with Gale Godwin. “The children get to be creative and match colors,” says Accie Murray, who picks up her granddaughter on a daily basis, taking a good look at the center’s bulletin boards. “They’re very good at matching colors. My granddaughter loves the creative art activities.” Selecting markers, rolls of tape, and paper the children are excited about the day’s project. It involves placing strips of tape on the paper, in an unorganized way, and then coloring all over the paper. Markers move quickly to and fro. The children are anxious to finally peel the tape off the paper and discover their creation. “The children are kept entertained and out of trouble,” says Ginette Pena, assistant counselor of the Kindergarteners. “The activities help them grow as individuals.”
The majority of children are big on going outside to play, Gabriella Gomez, kindergartener, says, “I like coming because it’s fun and we get to go outside sometimes.”
While Gabriella peels the tape off her sheet of paper, fifth graders learn new moves with Larry Butler, the dance instructor, in the library. This frees Ralph Castro, group leader of the fifth graders, to spend time with the first and second graders.
Picking up the cones from the obstacle race, second grader, Ashley Liranzo says, “I like coming mostly Wednesdays. All the other days are boring. On Wednesdays we get to play games with Ralph.”
Ralph’s next game involves just a rope. You turn it just like when you’re jumping rope. The objective is to get across the rope without touching it. The catch is going through the rope.
One by one the children begin their attempts to get across, while Ralph and Randy Morillo, group leader of the first graders, turn the rope. The children take this game, and surely others, very seriously. Ralph encourages the children, telling them when to go. Most of the time, they fail. They take their time to think about the risk of just running or really looking close to decide when should be the best time to run across. One child thinks out loud, "Hmm... Randy said to run fast when the rope hits the floor," following the advice of those who they look up to.
Brandon Santiago grows frustrated and emotional after numerous tries. Ramon Vargas, assistant counselor of the first and second graders, comforts Brandon who is already in tears. “I have an impact on children's lives every day, whether it's spelling or pronouncing a word for them or even tying their shoelaces,” says Ramon. After two more tries, Brandon finally makes it across. It meant the world for him to get across at that moment, a foolish wish to a genie. Brandon’s mother knows how much the counselors mean to him. “The counselors interact with the kids just fine, as well as with the parents,” says Judy Rodriguez, Brandon’s mother.
Some of the children pair up with a partner to get across. Both children support each other. “My granddaughter learns how to interact, get along with others and do things together,” says Accie Murray. If they lose they share their sad faces together but have the hope of success next time. If they win, which never really happens, they share their joy together.
By this time most of the children are on the other side of the rope from where they started. As Randy stands in front of the turning rope, now ready to run across himself, he says, “I benefit from the after school program because I have more patience than I’ve ever had. It’s a workout, the children keep me moving,” and runs across without touching the rope.
Meanwhile, the fourth graders rehearse for the End of Year Show. Each group is working on something to perform at the show where parents and relatives will come to watch.
Jeremy Rosado, a third grader admits, “It’s boring, but I like the activities. They’re fun.”
Journalism is another one of the activities the children are involved in. Candice Giove, journalism instructor, guides fifth and sixth graders how to format an article and helps them put together the Marble Hill Voice.
The Marble Hill Voice is published by Urban Ellis, who is also in charge of the STOP program. The STOP program is a program where students and teachers organize with parents to go against guns, violence, and drugs. STOP’s motto is, “The signs of trouble are not always as clear as the STOP sign on the corner.” Urban Ellis also staffs Marble Hill’s after school program.
The Marble Hill Voice is published every two months. Shanae Scott, a fifth grader, is working on an interview and a small piece about poetry. Mariah Oliver, a third grader is writing about how the music and trumpet instructor, Melvin Vines, expresses himself through music. Anfernee Falcon, is working on a piece that questions why girls look up to Oprah Winfrey. Every Wednesday they start out by sharing the status of their piece and continuing to write their pieces on a computer.
By now it’s 5:30 and all the children are lining up to go to the cafeteria. From 5:30 to 6 the children are eating, socializing and being picked up by their parents and guardians.
These children are benefiting so much more than a child who is not enrolled in an after school program. Although some of the participants don’t like coming on certain days, they still come. The entire staff try to keep the children entertained and out of trouble. “I would definitely encourage my friends to sign their child up,” says Samboy Willadry, the mother of three children in the after school program. “Other children should be receiving the same benefits my children are.” Parents are aware that without the after school program their child’s life would be completely different. “My child’s week would be a lot different,” says Jose Quinatana, father of a sixth grader. “He would be less mature and developed in school.” Along with the children benefiting, parents benefit too. There are parents who work late and come just in time to pick up their child at six. Still, the program is much more beneficial to the children. Lissa Erazo says, “The children are kept out of the streets and they learn more than what they see. They’re here to open their eyes.”