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MS 158’s fall Beacon gets the go-ahead

City budget cuts caused the Beacon program at MS 158 on Oceania Street in Bayside to scale back some of its offerings this summer and raised concerns about what would be available during the school year, but Director Martenia Miller said she has received the word to go ahead with the fall schedule as planned.

Miller attended a city Department of Youth & Community Development meeting last week, where she was told the program would receive funding for its regular 42-hour-a-week schedule. Reduced funding forced the program to cancel its popular summer basketball tournament, shorten its arts-and-crafts class and cancel the end-of-summer pizza party, although Miller said the children and their families are hard at work trying to raise the funds on their own.

Miller said that during the summer MS 158’s Beacon has about 80 youngsters — a number that will jump to more than 350 during the school year, and she refused to accept that they would be shortchanged.

“It’s about letting parents know we worked to maintain a great program,” she said.

There are 80 Beacon programs throughout the city, which are funded by the Department of Youth and various community organizations. The program at MS 158, along with those at MS 172 in Floral Park and MS 216 in Fresh Meadows, is sponsored by the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck.

“It’s basically an old-fashioned community center inside of a school,” said Alan Stark, who coordinates the three Beacons. Operating during after-school hours, summer vacations and on weekends and holidays, the programs offer an array of educational and recreational classes as well as a place for youngsters to relax and have fun in a safe environment.

MS 158 offers art and computer classes, a gym and game room and, new for the fall, a career awareness class aimed at guiding students through the school to college/work transition.

In 2003, the Beacon Program had an air conditioner installed in the school’s gym, and Stark said the annual summer basketball tournament drew a lot of talented players and provided a great source of entertainment for the neighborhood. He said that because children can be isolated from others based on which schools they attend, the summer program offers an opportunity for youngsters of different backgrounds to interact and become friends.

“You kind of just have to let kids be. We do a lot of work on theme-based learning, but on occasion you have to let loose and relax and take it easy — just be a kid,” he said.

Miller said a parent recently came in to make a reservation for his child for the following year, even though the program neither requires nor takes reservations.

“It’s a marvelous thing to say about our program,” she said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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