When choosing a middle school, what happens after hours is critical in a city where space is scarce and fields are threatened.
Parents mulling middle school options spend a great deal of time comparing math and science programs, class size and school philosophies. They also can’t help noticing the wide disparity of sports and after-school programs and activities
Extras like robotics and rock bands can be big factors for working parents. Who wouldn’t prefer having their kids in fun, structured activities in school instead of hanging out in city parks, unsupervised?
Kids care a lot about these offerings as well. My 5th-grade son is absolutely swayed by the promise of track, soccer and swim teams.
After school sports are even more critical at a time when the few athletic fields available to New York City kids are threatened by politics – as at Randall's Island — or by development, as at Pier 40, where a huge rally is planned this Sunday at noon to save the fields from development.
So far, no middle school we’ve toured can compete with the offerings at M.A.T. in Chinatown, detailed in a great piece last week in the Downtown Express. The promise of the long-awaited community center that will be available free for all students at IS 289 will also be welcome.
But only M.A.T. offers a climbing wall (a great metaphor for middle schoolers, who literally climb them anyway) along with a surfing club and a tremendous track and field program. John De Matteo, the school’s ambitious athletic director, is building a really impressive program where 65 percent of all students participate in a sport.
To his credit, De Matteo has already met with the principal of Tompkins Square Middle School to explain how M.A.T. can support 16 sports and 38 teams. He plans to meet with other middle school principals to talk about how they can model their programs after M.A.T.’s as well.
De Matteo is happy to share his insights because he is so convinced that it makes a huge difference in the lives of middle schoolers.
“I believe that being on a structured sports team which teaches children how to work with their teammates, build sportsmanship, build community and character and motivate to improve grades will be one of the most important opportunities for our children to have," he says.
Any advice M.A.T. can offer middle school principals will be a positive step for all New York City public schools. Space, money and scheduling issues all interfere with the creation of after school programs. Just last week, hundreds of kids and parents crowded into PS 3 in the West Village, pointing out the critical need for more schools in Chelsea and the Village. Kids wondered why luxury condos are cropping up everywhere when schools are not.
There are not enough good public schools in the city. We also need fields, after school programs and sports. Parents are going to have to make a lot of noise to make sure we get them.
In the meantime, let's offer support and encouragement to the educators and visionaries who are creating, pushing and sharing programs that mean so much to our kids.
Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle