Classes don’t end when school’s out

Joel Aybar

Clockwise from left, Jurnee Thompson, Arlyn Rosario, Alyssa Calderon and Genesis Rodriguez are among the students in the PAL after-school program at PS 48.

At PS 48, PAL keeps 100 kids active and learning

When school lets out at PS 48, about 100 kids stay behind. They’re not being punished; they are taking part in the Hunts Point PAL program for what they all describe as “fun.”

They may not know it, but mixed with the fun is a lot of learning.

Since 2008, the PAL in Hunts Point has been working with children at the school on Spofford Avenue, providing a safe environment where students from age five to 11 can mix play with learning about a variety of subjects.

On a recent visit, a bunch of first-graders were hunched over construction paper, using crayons to draw pictures of what they want to be when they grow up. On the basketball court, fifth-graders were doing their best Lebron James impression.

“I like that they help me with my homework and I get to learn about other things like dance, art and basketball,” said fourth-grader Jewley DeJesus.

The program’s goals, the PAL says, are to teach the benefits of nutrition and fitness, promote good behavior, teach about the arts and help with homework.

Instructors group the students by grade, and each group is given the name of a college, like St. John’s or Gonzaga, to promote the idea of going to college. After the groups have gathered, each is taken to its own classroom where the teachers and staff work their magic.

Before anything else, the kids get help with their homework. Once homework is done, the program introduces the curriculum for the day.

Friday, though, is different. The PAL calls it “Funday,” when the students join groups of their choice, picking from among Junior Police, basketball, fashion, dance, arts and crafts and a reading group called the Book Worms.

“It’s fun here. We get to play sports, “said fourth-grader Edgardo Alvarez. “If I wasn’t here I’ll probably still be playing basketball, but outside, but it’s safer here. Nobody can interrupt us, and we don’t have to worry about bigger kids kicking us off the court.”

Promoting fitness and healthy eating is one of the main focuses of the program, in an effort to curb the epidemic of obesity in the Bronx.

We show them that eating an apple will leave you feeling just as full as eating a bag of potato chips, said the Hunts Point PAL director Noel Morales, but the apple provides nutrition, while the chips are empty calories.

In September, Nickelodeon acknowledged the program for its promotion of fitness. The cable television channel went to the school to film the kid’s version of the Insanity Workout, which Nickelodeon called “Kidsanity.”

The students say the PAL has made them aware of the importance of being healthy.

“I love it here. We get to be active. Sometimes we take trips and go to holiday camps,” said fourth-grader Jeneleese Torres. “If there was no PAL I would probably be home watching TV and eating a bag of chips.”

Teachers at PS 48 say they can tell which students participate in the PAL program. The students “are more conscious of what not to do,” said first-grade teacher Jeanette Lawson. “Another difference I see with kids is that they help teach other kids what they learn at the PAL. The PAL helps a lot behavioral-wise.”

The behavior of some kids when they first come to the PAL can be a problem. Some use profanity and demonstrate their lack of respect for authority.

But that is not how they leave.

“They come to us rough and leave polished,” said Morales. “We have a period in our schedule where we teach conflict resolution and how to handle anger. We also try our best to create a safe environment here, but we understand the streets are different, so we try to teach them that violence is a last resort.”

“I’ll give you an example,” he continued. “We had this very problematic fifth-grader. He was always cursing, wandering around and doing whatever he wanted to do, and had no respect. Although at times he was a real headache, we had made a promise to the family we would help him, and by the end of the school year you could see a huge difference in his grades as well as behavior.”

The kids are not the only people who get something out of the PAL. The employees are grateful to the program, as well.

“Working here with kids helps me a lot,” said Kate Colacchio, a student at Hunter College who hopes to become a teacher. “It helps me understand how it is to work with kids of certain ages. This is helping me see if this is what I really want to do.”

Colacchio has worked at the PAL for four years. “I love these kids,” she said. “I don’t know what other people think about the Bronx, but I love it.”

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