Award Ceremony Honors New York After-School Educators, Programs

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NEW YORK — The tables at Midtown Manhattan’s ornate Cipriani restaurant, with its high, grand arched ceilings, were set with bouquets of white hydrangeas and yellow tulips. The lighting was soft and purplish, and the festive patrons — after-school program cognescenti — dined on filet mignon and drank from seemingly bottomless glasses of wine.

New York BureauAlison Overseth, the executive director of the Partnership for After School Education, took the stage. The audience of hundreds applauded.

“Let’s dive into the academy awards of after-school!” she said.

The crowd roared.

The lavish ceremony was held in honor of five award winners, who were chosen for their excellence in the field of after-school education in New York City.

One of the five winners was Laura Jankstrom. She led students in making a PSA for food stamp applicants, and she volunteers with them in soup kitchens as part of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. Jankstrom leads their after-school programs.

Antonio Aponte, who founded the Latino College Expo and heads up a Boy’s Club of New York program that he himself attended in his youth, accepted his award with some humor.

“To be recognized, I must say it does feel good,” Aponte told the crowd, noting that he’d been nominated for the award four times and felt like Susan Lucci at the Emmys.

Durice Jones, who created the NYC Parks Happy Warriors day camp, won the award for her work in the Lower East Side community, where she’s seen children she’s had at camp grow up and come back to help.

Accepting her award, she told the crowd how she became involved in after-school education.

“I’ve never known what it was like to be a latchkey kid,” Jones said. “But becoming a parent did raise those concerns — where would my children go while I was at work?”

Stephane Derisma, another winner, was, at 24, the youngest-ever program director of the Action Center, which has served more than 2,000 children in Far Rockaway.

Derisma, who grew up in Far Rockaway, where some schools don’t have the resources to have after-school programs, said the program was vital and helped the students  branch out.

“It’s not just about a safe environment,” she said when she accepted her award. “It can also be a place where impoverished kids can experience new things that they might not be exposed to on their own.”

J. Christopher Neal, who heads up the Coro Exploring Leadership program in Brooklyn, works with 14- to 18-year-olds as they learn about education policy and then apply that knowledge to “change projects” focused on an issue they think could be improved at their own school.

As Neal walked to the podium to accept his award, which includes $5,000 toward the winners’ programs and 100 tickets to a Mets baseball game, he unbuttoned his cuffs and began rolling his sleeves.

“I’m rolling up my sleeves because this is the way you do this work,” he told the audience, adding that sometimes educators need to “get messy and meet the kids where they are.”

“We are the cultivators of the most important fertile ground we have,” he continued. “The hearts and minds of our children.”

Yvonne Brathwaite, the associate executive director, said the diversity of this year’s award-winners was typical for the organization.

“This field of work is naturally diverse and pretty representative of different cultures, ethnicities, races and genders,” she said. “So I think our award-winners represent that diversity.”

PASE, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, was founded on the idea that children’s after-school hours are an important opportunity to educate, guide and play.

Michele Cahill, who founded the organization, said: “One of the things about 20 years ago was making people aware of the idea that education happened at anytime of the day, and that rich community assets needed to be brought there, to after-school hours.”

The event also served as a fundraiser for the organization. A table at the event went for as much as $50,000, and a call for donations of up to $5,000 was accompanied by a promise by the board members to match the funds given. Added to an after-dinner auction of cases of wine and days at famous golf courses, the event helped net PASE over $700,000 dollars.

The atmosphere was celebratory, glasses clinked, and the attendees laughed and cheered.

 “We need adults willing to step up,” Overseth told the crowd. “The good news is, we have them.”