New York, NY—Families of students who attend P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island have no option on the island to send their children to a remote learning center because a long-standing childcare provider that applied to provide 45 seats was denied by the city. That’s why they joined a virtual rally earlier today with elected officials to ask the city to reconsider.

The provider, Island Kids, submitted an application to the Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) back in August to participate in a new program, called Learning Bridges, that is supposed to provide child care options to up to 100,000 children from 3-K through 8th grade on days when they are scheduled for remote learning.

Island Kids’ Chairperson, Kate Orozco, and Executive Director Nikki Leopold went on an interview with DYCD in October, and they were confident that they did well in the interview, but they received just a form letter that didn’t explain why their application to be a Learning Bridges provider was denied.

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“It’s really important to me, it’s important to all the residents on the island that the DYCD reconsider and actually let us know why we weren’t approved for it. I did sit in that interview with Nikki, I felt good when we walked away from it, and I know that Nikki did too, so it is a little confusing to me why there would seem not to be a need,” said Orozco.

She added, “I think it’s something that should definitely be reconsidered. Island Kids has proven itself year-over-year for the last 23 years that they are a legitimate provider for something like Learning Bridges. Again, I encourage the DYCD to reconsider, or at least let us know what it was that perhaps we failed at as an organization so that we can rectify it.”

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) hosted the rally, as he has been a leading advocate for expanding the number Learning Bridges seats. In fact, he wrote a letter to the Mayor first proposing the idea of remote learning centers for families who needed child care while students were learning remotely.

Since the city launched Learning Bridges in September, there are only 62 Learning Bridges locations in Manhattan to serve 195 elementary and middle schools with 78,002 public school students in 3-K through 8th grades.

Currently, the closet Learning Bridges program for Roosevelt Island residents is the Vanderbilt YMCA at East 47th in Manhattan, which requires at least two different subway lines to reach.

“The Vanderbilt YMCA means that children have to take two subways to get there, it’s about 20 minutes if you get both transfers. If you’re a parent and you have two hours each day, you can take advantage of that Learning Bridges location, but that’s really not right and that’s not enough,” Kallos said. 

Amy Rodriguez is the mother of two young boys on Roosevelt Island; she and her husband both work as essential workers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She applied for the Learning Bridges program for her five-year-old son at Vanderbilt but so did parents from three different schools.

“When I saw that there were at least three schools assigned to the Vanderbilt YMCA, I grew a bit worried. After not hearing anything for a month, I reached out and was told that we were on the waiting list, which basically gives us no chance of attending. We can’t afford additional child care because we already pay for my younger son,” said Rodriguez.

Another Roosevelt Island parent who participated in the virtual rally, Kirstin Bruan, who works as a public defender and must still appear at the Kew Gardens Court House in a Queens redzone, said she wouldn’t be able to send her daughter to the Vanderbilt location.

“It is nothing short of a nightmare not to have Learning Bridges on Roosevelt Island, and while I was really excited that she got a spot at the YMCA, when I looked and saw that it was at the Vanderbilt site, I was crushed because it was useless to me,” said Bruan.

Joining the virtual rally were U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, each calling for the New York City Department of Education to reconsider its decision and bring Learning Bridges to Island Kids.

“The services they offer are needed now more than ever and Learning Bridges will help expand the options that Roosevelt Island parents have on days when they have to go to work and their children are scheduled to work remotely,” said Maloney.

She added, “Today, I am calling on DOE to bring the Learning Bridges program to Island Kids to increase the ease and flexibility for both parents and students as we adapt to remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“You have my strong commitment to make sure that we get this reversed and you get what is due for your students and for education,” declared Seawright.

Roosevelt Island parents have launched an online petition asking the DOE to grant a Learning Bridges on the island: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-need-learning-bridges-on-roosevelt-island

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