By THOMAS MOODY
If you are looking for some fun and educational after-school activities for children this fall semester, the NYC Parks Department has you covered. With offerings including homework help, programs in arts and culture, sports and fitness, and team-building events, the Parks after-school programs provide a safe, structured environment serving communities in need. What’s more, they’re free. The programs are held citywide in borough recreation centers.
“We encourage the centers to get creative and tailor their programs to their specific communities.” Erin Vega, director of Citywide Youth Programs said. “We host monthly parent meetings to share information, but this is also a time where our team asks the parents to share their suggestions and let us know where we are excelling and where we could go to improve the program for the specific site.”
Parents are encouraged to participate in special events and recreation programs, and communication remains open with coordinators.
Applications for the after-school programs are offered in English, Spanish and Simplified Chinese. At specific locations, the department requests translators for parent meetings in order to ensure that it is meeting the language needs of the community and is not excluding anyone who could benefit from the services.
“Parks strives to make our programming accessible for New Yorkers of all backgrounds,” Vega said.
One program that the Parks Department is particularly proud of is STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics).
“We are living in a world where answers are at our fingertips and we are using inquiry-based learning to teach our students how to navigate through it,” Vega said. “We introduced STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] four years ago and created a citywide bridge-building project that had everyone excited to see who had built the strongest bridge. Since then, the field has grown to STEAM, and we have been assigning each borough a topic/letter at the beginning of the year and challenging them to come up with different science projects that they can bring to our ‘STEAM Maker faire.’ Our maker faire is going on its third year. This faire is similar to a science fair with the twist of participants leading hands-on projects for other youth.”
The after-school program at Lost Battalion Hall in Queens has two distinctive STEAM programs. The Kynex Program allows participants to engage in creative building. The creative building develops motor skills, eye-hand coordination, problem-solving skills and much more. In the past, kids have created bridges, robots, buildings and other architectural structures. Last year, after-school participants engaged in a program called Little Astronauts, where they created replicas of planets, built rockets and used their imagination to travel to space.
A new addition to after-school programming for fall 2018 is the Stargazing Program. The program was developed this summer to connect youth participants with the natural environment. It encourages healthy living through actively exploring the field of astronomy in their local parks. The program will continue to include arts-and-crafts activities, educational stargazing, activities, field trips and much more.
Another highlight of the after-school program is the Media Education program for teens. Storytelling is said to be the oldest form of education. Despite great advances in technology that have changed the way we tell these stories, what remains essential is that new voices be heard and new stories be told. The program helps a whole new generation of storytellers develop their craft, teaching young New Yorkers how to advance their skills in filmmaking, video production, audio production, graphic design, game design and photography. Held citywide in media labs located in recreation centers, the program also educates teens on how to become good digital citizens, giving lessons in computer coding as well as instructions about how to be safe online and how to make ethical media. In Queens, the program is held in two separate locations: the Lost Battalion Hall Recreation Center and the Vic Hanson Field House in Jamaica. The course is free and open to all recreation center members aged 13 to 17.
Registration for recreation centers is free for teens under the age of 18. NYC Parks accepts applications on a rolling basis; however, early registration is encouraged.
You can register online, email email@example.com or call (212) 360-2702 for current RecYouth program locations.