Bridging The Long, Hot Summer Months (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A to B: Building More Bridges Across the Potomac?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:12:50
As the school year winds down, students across the D.C. region are about to face a whole different kind of bridge, one that spans the divide between the last day of classes and the start of a new academic year. We're talking summer vacation, camps, internships and jobs which are usually plentiful for young people in D.C. during the warm weather months. But local non-profits say some summer programs are seeing major funding cuts, about $17 million worth because of the city's budget shortfall. And that means nearly 15,000 kids might be left without very much to do during the day.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:13:26
Education reporter Kavitha Cardoza takes a look at the situation and what it means for students.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

13:13:33
Ten-year-old Aaron Williams loves ping pong.

MR. AARON WILLIAMS

13:13:37
I'm not the best, but I can play.

CARDOZA

13:13:38
Williams has been coming to Beacon House after school for six years. It's a program in the Edgewood Terrace apartment complex that serves at-risk children in Northeast D.C. The neighborhood has improved over the years, but there's still crime. Just last week, children coming home from school saw someone being stabbed on the property. So this space with computers, story books and sports teams is a safe place.

MR. DEVON CARTER

13:14:04
I do my homework and I -- like, I've got tutors to help me so I could get better.

CARDOZA

13:14:08
His friends Devon Carter and Sammy Pane also like coming here, but for different reasons.

CARTER

13:14:14
As soon as you sign in, you can get something to eat. They ask you how you're doing. Even some of the coaches on our football team come to the school and talk to your teachers and make sure that you go to school.

MR. SAMMY PANE

13:14:24
I mean, they keep you out of trouble like at the school when you're doing stuff you got no business doing.

CARDOZA

13:14:28
Last year, 175 children attended Beacon House summer camp. This year with city funding cut by 40 percent, it can only serve approximately two-thirds that number. Stacey Erd is the executive director who will soon have to turn children away.

MS. STACEY ERD

13:14:44
I dread those conversations because I've never had to do that before. I've never had to say we cannot serve you.

CARDOZA

13:14:52
Erd says she worries about what's called learning loss over the summer as children forget what they've absorbed over the previous year and begin the next academic year playing catch-up. But more immediately, she worries about children having nothing to do.

ERD

13:15:06
They're unsupervised at home or with little supervision and they live in at-risk communities. That combination puts them at-risk for risky kinds of behaviors like early sexual activity, drugs and alcohol.

CARDOZA

13:15:22
Beacon House is one of approximately 30 lucky organizations that receive some funding from the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation. It distributes city dollars for children's programs. At least 80 non-profits receive nothing. D.C.'s mayor Vincent Gray says there have been cuts because the city was looking at an almost $200 million budget shortfall.

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY

13:15:44
It's very difficult when you get into a discussion. Everybody says of course you have to have a balanced budget. Just don't do this, don't do that and don't do the other. But we're working as hard as we can to compensate for any reductions that have had to be made and continue to do that throughout the summer.

CARDOZA

13:15:58
He says they're stepping up programs offered through the Department of Parks and Recreation and other city agencies. In addition he says pools will be open. The city will host movie nights and they're trying to find more jobs in the private sector. It isn't just what are called enrichment activities that are being cut. Summer school is being affected as well.

MS. KATHY LALEE

13:16:17
It's going to be different in a very dramatic way.

CARDOZA

13:16:20
That's Kathy Lalee (sp?) who heads summer school programs for D.C. public schools.

LALEE

13:16:24
Just to give you some comparisons, last year we served nearly 5,000 students at the high school level. This year we're going to only be able to serve about a quarter of that total.

CARDOZA

13:16:34
She says last year any high school student who wanted to make up credits could attend summer school but with the budget reduced from $9 million to $4 million this year they're concentrating on those most at-risk so freshmen within two grades of being promoted and seniors within three credits of graduating.

LALEE

13:16:51
If they fall behind in 8th and 9th grade it is really difficult for them to get back on track so it's those students on the bubble in 8th and 9th grade and then the really high stakes at 12th grade and getting as many students graduated as possible.

CARDOZA

13:17:04
Last year 300 students completed the credits they needed to graduate high school only because of summer school. Lalee says without these classes teens would have to attend school for another year putting them at risk for dropping out. For the past three years approximately 20,000 teens have been employed through D.C.'s summer jobs program. This year that number is 12,000 and that frustrates teenagers such as Michael Burrell. He's had summer jobs through the city that paid more than $7 an hour, not this year.

MR. MICHAEL BURRELL

13:17:36
It's been very difficult when they tell me that I couldn't because, it was like, it was already full. Why I really wanted to work this summer? You know, it would be nice to have something to do besides sitting in the house, just laying around.

CARDOZA

13:17:49
Burrell says several of his classmates are also looking for work after being told they wouldn't have a city summer job. Alfred Durham is Assistant Chief of Police in D.C. He says the police department runs several programs of their own for approximately 700 children during the summer including a teen camp and a junior police academy. This summer they've added 100 additional spots. But he says he understands the concern from residents about a possible rise in crime and in response the police department is restructuring its staffing to keep officers on the beat.

ASST. CHIEF OF POLICE ALFRED DURHAM

13:18:22
Instead of sending out members to training sitting in the classroom we will be having them remain on the streets to try to curtail, if there will be any increase in violence.

CARDOZA

13:18:31
Durham says this means approximately 500 officers who would have taken professional development will now have to wait until after summer. Part of the problem is that many organizations that work with youth found out only recently that cuts were on the horizon as officials realized they were facing a multi-million dollar budget gap for this fiscal year. Ram Uppuluri heads the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, a group of approximately 100 organizations serving children. He says this never should have happened.

MR. RAM UPPULURI

13:19:01
We have many youth programs but they tend to be siloed away in different government agencies without any real coordination, without any real overview of what the total availability is of youth programming.

CARDOZA

13:19:16
He says Philadelphia was facing a similar situation but because it has a youth network that works with all government non-profit and private agencies they were able to better prepare and raise more money for their summer youth programs. Mayor Gray disagrees saying the city has what he calls a highly-coordinated system of agencies working together on summer programs. And he says there will not be thousands of children wandering around with nothing to do.

GRAY

13:19:42
There are more activities that will be provided. There will be new activities that will be provided. We may not wind up spending the same amount of money that we've spent in the past but these activities will be available. And frankly one of the things we hope is that volunteers and parents will step up to assist us in doing this.

CARDOZA

13:19:58
They'll need to with an approximately $320 million budget shortfall for the upcoming year. Things are not looking good for next summer either. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
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