Since Elmont elementary schools opened their doors in September for the start of the school year, most of the students in the districts’ six buildings have had nowhere to go when the school day’s final bell rings.
In July, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano announced that youth service agencies would no longer receive funding from the county. Gateway Youth Outreach in Elmont used that funding to provide after-school programs for district children.
On Oct. 2, school superintendents from across Nassau County gathered outside Gateway’s offices and called on Mangano to reinstate the programs’ funding. Administrators from Elmont, Long Beach, Great Neck, Massapequa, Mineola, Uniondale and Westbury said they fear that their students are turning into latchkey youth, with many elementary school-age children forced to go home to an empty house after school and spend hours unsupervised. The superintendents also said they were afraid that some older students would get into trouble on the streets.
“We’re here to give voice to the students that don’t really have a voice,” Long Beach Superintendent David Weiss said at the gathering.
“It wasn’t just the agencies that were affected,” added Peter Levy, president of the Coalition of Nassau County Youth Agencies. “It was tens of thousands of children.”
Elmont Superintendent Al Harper stressed the value of Gateway and organizations like it to the community. Gateway provided support for parents, many of whom work more than one job and late hours to make ends meet, Harper said. “Gateway Youth Outreach provides that support,” he said. “We need it back.”
Teachers and principals have found more students waiting at least an hour after school for a parent or guardian to pick them up, Harper said. Members of the school staff must be on hand to watch children who are waiting for rides, which takes teachers away from lesson planning and becomes an added cost to the district.