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Long Island getting $8.35M to give kids options to not join MS-13, Cuomo says

The grants will pay for after-school, job training and placement programs, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. The new grants raise the Island's total to halt the "school to prison" pipeline to almost $27 million.

The Brentwood, Uniondale and Roosevelt school districts are

The Brentwood, Uniondale and Roosevelt school districts are among the organizations getting state grants to keep young people from joining gangs. Photo Credit: Composite photos: Joseph D. Sullivan; Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile; Danielle Finkelstein

Long Island schools and groups will receive an extra $8.35 million for after-school, job-training and placement programs to fight gang violence and give youngsters other options, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.

"The launch of this comprehensive plan builds on our investments to stomp out gang recruitment while engaging young men and women in our efforts to eliminate MS-13 from New York once and for all," Cuomo said.

The new grants raise Long Island’s total to halt the “school to prison” pipeline to almost $27 million. Another $7.6 million will fund 4,750 after-school slots statewide, Cuomo said.

The Island’s 17 grant-winning entities include schools in Nassau’s Roosevelt, where prosecutors said the Crips and Bloods street gangs warred from 2003 to 2013, and the Mineola-based Family and Children's Association, which will try to keep youngsters from reoffending again.

Some of Roosevelt’s 3,300 students wrote dozens of letters to Cuomo, pressing for quality after-school and extracurricular programs, Superintendent Marnie Hazelton said. Her school won $800,000 each year through 2022 — a total of almost $3.2 million.

“This is a tremendous, tremendous windfall for the district,” Hazelton said, adding that paying for after-school programs has been a struggle.

About 500 elementary to high school Roosevelt students will get tutoring, youth development, nutrition and health education, drug and violence prevention and music, art and physical education, starting as soon as late September, she said.

Central Islip, which educates nearly 7,400 pupils, is one area where MS-13 gangs have formed, and about 240 of its high schoolers will benefit from a partnership with West Islip Youth Enrichment Services, which won $240,000 for after-school activities and $300,000 for job training, said Superintendent Howard Koenig.

This will help make up for the Trump administration cuts in such programs, he said.

In Brentwood, where two high school girls were slain two years ago by suspected MS-13 gang members, Superintendent Richard Loeschner said the $300,000 grant would help about 100 high schoolers prepare for jobs and careers. Long Island’s largest district with about 20,000 pupils is working with the nonprofits United Way and Youth Enrichment Services, and plans to enlist businesses as possible employers.

“In Brentwood, we have many immigrant students, newly arrived, and we are targeting specific populations in the past who may have been disenfranchised,” Loeschner said.

The superintendent of one system — Longwood in Middle Island — said though the district appreciated the funding that would pay for after-school mentoring, it did not have a gang issue.

Cuomo debates his Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon just once, on Wednesday at Hofstra University, and she faulted him for initially focusing “entirely on punitive measures” to fight MS-13.

“We are pleased to see he is now changing his tack, but a great deal still needs to be done to address the inequity that leads young people to join gangs in the first place,” she said, vowing to close the gap between high and low income districts by shutting corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthy. “New York's schools are the second most unequally funded in the country,” she said.

Different anti-gang programs abound, and experts agreed that keeping students from dropping out and helping them learn to handle conflicts and develop social skills were crucial. Most juvenile crime occurs between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., noted Carolyn Boyes-Watson, sociology professor at Boston’s Suffolk University.

James C. Howell, senior research associate at Tallahassee’s federally funded National Gang Center, has studied gangs for more than 40 years. He praised initiatives that sent rigorously trained police officers to middle schools and “involved developing alternatives for youth and getting them into organized school sports and career training and a host of things to help them get off to a good start in life.”

Boyes-Watson, who also directs the Center for Restorative Justice, and David Karp, who directs Skidmore College’s Restorative Justice Project, said data showed these programs could work, outlining how they could keep children from the clutches of gangs and help their members leave.

For example, victims can meet offenders, holding them accountable for the harm they caused, in controlled settings, which can prove transformative, Karp said. Offenders also are helped to understand what motivated them — and how best to make amends, possibly through community service.

Schools, said Boyes-Watson, should rely less on suspending students who violate discipline — which may lead them to drop out — and more on assisting them in resolving clashes with peers, administrators and teachers.

The governor’s office said schools could use the funds as they saw fit: “The goal is to stop gang violence. We were very flexible with this money, because the school districts and programs that received it know their communities the best.”

New York State, Karp said, has lagged behind other states, including Texas, in enacting restorative justice legislation to allocate funding, determine who is eligible, and how programs will be run.

“If you look at state legislatures across the country, you can see New York has no state-level legislation,” Karp said.

The top two states in this area are Colorado and Vermont, he said. 

Grants announced Tuesday will go toward:

Job training and career opportunities

  • Uniondale Union Free School District: $300,000
  • Long Island University: $299,970
  • Family and Children's Association: $178,177
  • Leadership Training Inc.: $300,000
  • Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Inc.: $300,000
  • West Islip Youth Enrichment Services Inc.: $300,000
  • Brentwood Union Free School District: $298,520
  • Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk Inc.: $261,093
  • Board of Cooperative Educational Services, First Supervisory District of Suffolk County (Eastern Suffolk BOCES): $299,998
  • Viability Inc.: $300,000
  • United Way of Long Island: $300,000
  • Self-Initiated Living Options: $260,116
  • Adelante of Suffolk County Inc.: $299,951
  • Total: $3.7 million

After-school program grants

  • West Islip Youth Enrichment Services Inc.: $240,000
  • Longwood Central School District: $800,000
  • Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk Inc.: $560,000
  • Roosevelt Union Free School District: $798,400
  • Total: $2.4 million

Community Credible Messengers Initiative

  • The Family and Children’s Association will receive funds for the governor's initiative, building a network with Youth Enrichment Services Inc., Visions to Opportunity, Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk County and Woman’s Opportunity Rehabilitation Center to support youth transitioning after a juvenile justice placement.
  • Total: $2.25 million

How school districts plan to use funds

Superintendents of several Long Island systems gave specifics on use of the state grants for job training, mentorships, tutoring and after-school activities.

Roosevelt

Superintendent Marnie Hazelton learned Tuesday of the grant of nearly $800,000 for after-school programs, and on the same day received an official letter from the state that the district is slated to receive that amount annually through 2022 — for a total of nearly $3.2 million.

“I believe you need after-school programs so you can prevent the sprouting of gangs,” Hazelton said. “If kids are left idle after school, allowed to hang out in parks or in the neighborhood, that is when gang activity can take root.”

The immediate grant money will mean more academic enrichment for 500 students in the district — from elementary through high school, she said.

Students will benefit across a broad range of areas: tutoring, youth development, nutrition and health education, drug and violence prevention and music, art and physical education. She hopes programs will be in place by the end of September.

Central Islip

The district is working in partnership with West Islip Youth Enrichment Services, which received $240,000 in after-school grants and $300,000 for job training.

Superintendent Howard Koenig said the grant will help fill the gap in federal funds for such programs that had been cut under President Donald J. Trump’s administration.

About 240 high school students will benefit from the after-school programs and 80 high school students will benefit from the job-training grant, Koenig said.

“This is a wonderful way to reinstate those after-school programs,” he said. “With the youngsters who are coming to this country — the new immigrant kids — the worst thing you can do is make these students feel isolated and not part of something bigger than them.”

Brentwood

Superintendent Richard Loeschner said the district — Long Island’s largest, with about 20,000 students — will use its nearly $300,000 grant to help with programs to prepare students for jobs and careers.

The district is working in cooperation with the nonprofits United Way and Youth Enrichment Services and will serve 100 students at the high school and the system’s Freshman Center.

In the multi-pronged approach, he said, students of pre-employment age will be taught strategies for success and also benefit from tutoring. The district plans to partner with area businesses, and high school students will be offered work opportunities.

“There will be job shadowing, career mentoring — a whole host of things we will be doing with these kids,” Loeschner said.

He expects the programs to be fully operational by December.

Longwood

Officials in the Longwood district said they had applied in the spring for a grant to fund after-school programs in partnership with the nonprofit group called Family Residences and Essential Enterprises.

Superintendent Michael Lonergan said the district is appreciative of the $800,000 in funds, which will go to providing after-school programs for about 500 students at three district schools, but “this has nothing to do with MS-13.”

“I am not too sure how the governor tied this into the anti-gang initiative,” Lonergan said. “This is not geared to fighting MS-13, but rather engaging students in creative mentoring after school.”

— Joie Tyrrell

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