I’m saddened to learn about the closing of seven Beacon Centers in NYC. Twenty years ago, my friend and visionary leader former Mayor David Dinkins asked me to lead the advisory commission that created the Beacons. As crime was at an all-time high in New York City in the early 90s, creating safe environments for our young people to spend their afternoon, evening, weekend and summer hours was paramount.
Knowing the power of school-community partnerships, we enlisted both parties to help us in the effort. We opened the centers in familiar, neighborhood schools and turned to the leadership of community-based organizations that understood the families and the supports they needed. Beacons quickly become vibrant learning centers in their neighborhoods, offering services such as daycare, after-school programming, college counseling, GED courses and adult education classes.
The Beacons model has shaped our work here at TASC. In 1998, TASC was founded with the goal of making comprehensive, daily after-school programs that operated from 3-6PM available to families in their local schools. Like Beacon Centers, we engaged community organizations, such as Ys and settlement houses, to operate daily after-school programs in New York City public schools every day that school is in session. In our ExpandED Schools, these community educators have become a critical part of the school faculty, adding 35% more learning time to the school’s learning day.
If anything can be learned from the success of the Beacon Centers, it is that schools and communities working together can produce powerful results for kids. I hope some common ground may be found to keep these Beacon Centers operating and serving the needs of New York City families.