P&J Beacon program praised as a model school community center

Something highly unusual happens every week at I.S. 192 in Throggs Neck: kids beg their parents to bring them to school. On Saturdays.

I.S. 192 keeps its doors open on weekends, weeknights and holidays to offer art classes, STEM activities, team sports and more through the P&J Beacon program. Part of a city-wide initiative, P&J Beacon provides a community space to the school’s 3-to-13-year-old students, as well as to older teens and adults from the area, who participate in and help lead the activities.

“Community members of all ages have been coming to my class, learning together,” said the Beacon’s Jiu Jitsu teacher Sensei Gary George, whose children also attend the program. “It’s been an incredible experience.”

On a typical weeknight, the halls of I.S. 192 are bustling. Beacon group leaders, mostly young adults from the community, welcome the students with high-fives and guide them to their activities. Parents chit-chat about how each other’s children have grown. Students greet the security staff and janitors by their first names.

“The familiar environment here is really what makes the Beacon so special,” said Rayshawn Logan, who has been a group leader at the program for four years. “Students start out not wanting to be at school for any longer than they have to. But after a couple months, they don’t want to leave.”

P&J is one of 91 Beacon locations in New York City. Funded by the NYC Department of Youth & Community, the program partners with various nonprofit organizations to start community centers at local schools. The nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods helped found the Beacon at I.S. 192 in 2008.

The Beacon at I.S. 192 has caught the attention of Robert Bieder, youth and education director at Community Board 10, who wants to use the school as a model to establish a similar program at Harry S. Truman High School in Co-op City.

Truman is the largest public school in the district, with 2,094 students, two swimming pools, a football field and a planetarium. “It would be great if those facilities could be made available for the entire community to use – not just the students,” Bieder said in an interview.

Keri Alfano, Truman’s principal, said in an interview that she is a firm believer in afterschool programs, and she would be eager to extend access of her school’s facilities to the broader Co-op City community. She is currently discussing the details of the Beacon program with its directors.

Edwin Scott, director of the P&J Beacon in Throggs Neck, said in an interview that Truman would be an ideal location for a Beacon, but it needs to follow a flexible, community-driven model in order to succeed.

“It’s not easy to create a space where students want to be after the last bell of the day rings,” Scott said. “It requires consistently listening to the individual needs of the students and parents. There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all Beacon. Each community is different because each student is different.”

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