Carol Wong casually eats her lunch while poking at a puzzle on her desk, wishing she were busier. It’s the day before elementary schools begin their semester, and as the coordinator for True Light Lutheran Church’s Afterschool Care Program this should be the busiest day of the year for Wong.
“We have ONE student enrolled this semester,” she said. Then the phone rings, and after a brief conversation with the caller she hangs up and turns back to say, “Never mind, we have NO students this year, their check bounced.”
Ten years ago Wong had over 130 students enrolled in her program, but in recent years afterschool care has become big business in Chinatown and she’s been nudged out by the competition. In Manhattan’s Chinatown, parents have an abundance of private afterschool care options. From the entrance of P.S. 124 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, there are at least four companies conveniently located in eyeshot of the school’s entrance.
It is that time of year when students return to school and parents, face once again, the struggle to secure their child’s place in an afterschool care program. Afterschool care programs – both public and private – typically provide academic tutoring, facilitate recreations, and occupy students while their parents are still at work.
“We haven’t decided on an afterschool program,” says Franne Yee-mon, who is dropping her first-grade son off at P.S. 124 for his first day of school. “There are a lot of options and we still need to do our research,” she admits.
On the first day of classes on Sept. 9 at both P.S. 124 and P.S. 130, parents escorted their children through a sea of solicitors for afterschool care programs at the school’s entrance.
Ashley Ng, a part-time teacher at, of Eternity One Afterschool Enrichment Program, a private company charging $1,685 per semester per student, handed out flyers near the entrance of P.S. 124. A student of Baruch College studying early childhood development, she believes that these companies are “a great way for aspiring teachers to get their foot in the door,” but she acknowledges that the tuition costs can be steep for certain families.
Unlike nonprofit partnerships, private afterschool care organizations are not allowed to operate within New York public schools.
“We don’t endorse any outside agencies because it would be a conflict of interests. That being said, we do not have the resources to register every student for our own afterschool care program,” said Principal Renny Fong of P.S. 130, a predominantly low-income school.
For Chinatown schools the responsibility of providing a public option is largely left to the Chinese-American Planning Council, a city funded nonprofit group referred to by many in the neighborhood as the CPC. The organization is administered by the New York Department of Youth and Community Development and covers six elementary schools in the predominantly Asian neighborhoods of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
Each of the four schools are equipped to provide tutoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, coined STEM, to all its afterschool care enrollees.
However, the majority of students in these school districts resort to alternative options for these services because there aren’t enough spots for everyone. For example at P.S. 130 there are only 150 spots available for a student body of 855. Frustration is felt across the board and as the director of the Council’s afterschool care program, Catherine Lee, admits, “Since school is free, I believe that all afterschool care should be free. It’s really not fair.”
To alleviate the problem at P.S. 124, which only has 185 spots available for their student body of 950, parents have taken on more fundamental roles in volunteering their time and resources. Susan Kirrk, a parent of an incoming first grader, is an active PTA member, a school leadership team member, and an alumni of P.S. 130 down the street.
At the entrance to P.S.124 on Tuesday evening, Kirrk hauled a bag of donated basketballs to the gymnasium. “We’ve got the sports program up and running, next on the agenda is the chess club,” she says with a brightening smile. “The CPC has been wonderful, but they can only do so much.”