Everyone who’s seen Katie Dellamaggiore’s acclaimed 2012 documentary Brooklyn Castle falls in love with the I.S. 318 chess team and everything it represents. Which makes sense. As an example of everything that can go right with after-school programs (and also as a nationally competing chess team), they’re pretty unbeatable.
So administrators, team members, and fans alike are understandably rattled at a new round of budget cuts that could either diminish or entirely eliminate funding for the program, as well as other public after-school programs citywide.
At a city council hearing earlier this week, Pobo Efekoro, an I.S. 318 team member and one of the film’s breakout stars, addressed council members, saying, “Over the past few years, the IS 318 chess program has been hit with successive budget cuts that have scaled back the program. [...] The program has been lucky enough to receive donations from private entities and individuals — but although these donations are wonderful, the chess team may not be able to survive if the City cuts our funding this year.”
Dellamaggiore concurs, saying, “It happens around the same time every year with the budget [...] They fight the good fight every year. Last year, for instance, they had real success pushing back against cuts in Out-of-School time. It’s always the best tool we have for someone like Pobo to be able to tell his personal story, it has a huge impact.”
She also cited help from City Councilman Stephen Levins (“It takes an an army,” she notes), as well as vocal interference from the school’s increasingly wide base of supporters. “Donations do help a lot, and they have been coming in. Almost more than that, I think writing letters and tweeting and at city council members about this really matters, it really does get heard. And it’s not just chess at 318 that’s at stake, it’s the band there, it’s every after-school program.”
For now, the state of the budget and I.S. 318’s funding is up in the air, though council members are reportedly looking for alternative budgeting options, citing the likely “screaming and yelling” from concerned parents. Failing an easier resolution, let’s hope they keep screaming.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.