By MICHAEL GARETH JOHNSON
It’s often said that education doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. In the past few years, under the de Blasio administration’s direction, this mantra has been ushered into action: Budget investments into after-school programs are rising each year, and thousands more children are being introduced to programs allowing them to keep learning when the end-of-school bell rings.
Last year, the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) helped more than 162,000 kids, K-12, find after-school programs that work for them. In Queens, nearly 20,000 kids took part, with a large focus of the new programs targeting middle-school–aged kids. These programs, while primarily helping public-school kids, are also available to students at religious and private schools, and focus on preparing students for a career after their formal education is completed.
Bill Chong, a Forest Hills resident and lifelong New Yorker, has spearheaded this recent expansion in services at the DYCD—his second stint at the agency following eight years as a deputy commissioner under Mayor Mike Bloomberg . Since being appointed to head the agency in January 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chong has focused on enhancing job-related education, offering more opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and preparing students to be productive members of the workforce in coming years.
The Queens Tribune spoke to Chong last week about the latest after-school programs and the goals of the city’s investment in these programs.
Below is a transcript of the interview, edited for space.
Queens Tribune: What is the overall philosophy and goals of offering these after-school programs?
Bill Chong: The guiding principle is continued learning and helping young people develop into productive adults. The programs differ from elementary schools to middle schools, but Mayor [de Blasio] has focused on middle school. That’s when decision-making really becomes a focus for youth development. That’s why the mayor wants to focus on the SONYC [School’s Out New York City].
QT: How has the mission at DYCD changed over the years?
BC: The mission really changed at the start of [the de Blasio] administration. When I was Deputy Commissioner of Youth Services [during the Bloomberg administration], I saw year after year of cuts. It was brutal. This administration has been more like, “How much money do we need?”
QT: One thing we have been seeing in public schools is more focus on STEM subject areas. Is this happening with after-school programs as well?
BC: Yes, we have seen much more focus on STEM as we have expanded the programs we offer. That decision has come because it is what interests the students. One great thing DYCD is able to do is broker relationships with major institutions. So, for example, every year we do a night at the Museum of Natural History and we have students being taught by experts in the science field. We have also worked with the crew of the Intrepid to do a Math in Motion program. Also, the New York Academy of Sciences partners with us by recruiting doctoral students and masters’ students to teach classes to some kids. The more we can do to connect professional institutions to bolster our programs, the better.
QT: You’ve been involved in helping young people for much of your career. How have you seen these after-school programs pay off in the long run?
BC: One of the last things on my bucket list is to build a more integrated approach on services for youth. What we see sometimes is a young person goes into an elementary school program, and then they may drop off in middle school. So, this is where we have DYCD Connects. It is a merger of three agencies and there are eight different data sets. It’s being built out now, but the goal is that when any child reaches 8th grade, their parents will get an email telling them what after-school programs are available for them, based on their previous experience in the program. The frustrating thing is that we don’t have continuous tracking and intervention, and that is what we are working toward changing.