Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Councilman Jimmy Vacca call for restoration of funding for CUNY Prep

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilman Jimmy Vacca are issuing a plea to Mayor de Blasio to save a very special Pelham Parkway school.

The mayor wants to chop funding to CUNY Prep on White Plains Road, which helps young people pass their high school equivalency exams and prepare to enter college.

The two electeds visited the school on Friday, May 9 and heard the personal stories of young people, who were going through or already had completed their training there.

Vacca said that the program should be replicated, not eliminated. Both he and Viverito called for restoration of the $800,000 or so cut from the mayor’s budget.

“Jimmy Vacca is very supportive of this program, I am as well,” said Mark-Viverito. “We have included it in our budget response to the Mayor, and we will continue to advocate for it.” “We are going to be advocating that this program continue,” said Vacca. “The mayor in his budget has omitted some money that we think is essential to the program to continue.”

Both de Blasio’s preliminary budget released earlier this year, and his executive budget released on Thursday, May 8 called for cutting or omitting the program.

According to the student’s own words, the program helps students who may not thrive in traditional school settings but could do well in a program with smaller classes, described by the students as between 15 and 20 at CUNY Prep.

Country Club resident Richard Sardone-Ligotino, 17, told the pols that Lehman High School wasn’t right for him, while he found CUNY Prep a very welcoming and safe environment.

Shanelle Gillespie of the Gun Hill Road area, who graduated from the program and is now at Hostos Community College said CUNY Prep made her feel she was a “part of something” at the school.

“The teachers here are not just like ‘I am here to teach you, and that is my job,’” said Gillespie, who was called “an example and a model” by Speaker Viverito. “They actually take care and interest in you. They want you to succeed…they shape you for the outside world.”

Jasleen Villamil, 20, was able to enter John Jay College of Criminal Justice, after she completed both the GED program and follow-up prep program for college at CUNY Prep, called the College Transition Academy.

While the GED program is more structured, with students closely monitored and wearing uniforms, the CTA teaches the young people how to handle the freedom, said Villamil. The Council Speaker seemed to enjoy the format that allowed the students to share their own stories, in their own words.

“It is important to share our experiences because it inspires other people to succeed too,” said Mark-Viverito told the young people. “We, meaning our society, a lot of times does not validate the voices of young people.”

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742–3393. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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