Written by Judy Epstein Friday, 04 June 2010 00:00
At age 14 and going into 10th grade, Lizzie Meyer has been a camper in the ATLAST program for 10 years, starting in kindergarten and culminating in two years as a C.I.T. (Counselor-in-Training). This summer, she was finally looking forward to making some money as an ATLAST counselor. So she was very disappointed when she was told that her only option was to come back to ATLAST as an unpaid volunteer – she was too old to continue as a C.I.T., but there were no paid spots available.
Doriana Hyman, just turned 16, was similarly excited about working for ATLAST this summer. Now going into 11th grade, Doriana had worked as a counselor last year, making approximately $800 for the summer. This year, she was told that she could participate in the program, but on an unpaid, volunteer basis, only.
This seems to be a situation being repeated in many Port Washington homes this summer, as the end of the school year rapidly approaches: teens who had every expectation of participating in the next step of ATLAST, at either the C.I.T. or the counselor level, are finding that the plan has changed since it was outsourced to the Children’s Center. Some are being offered money, but substantially less than they would have made under the old program; some are being offered just the chance to enhance their résumés with volunteer work, with possibly a $100 gift card at the end of the six-week program.
“So much for ‘seamless transition,’” said Doriana’s mother, Corbey Hyman, referring to representations made by the school district administration when the outsourcing was first publicly discussed.
When questioned about this point, Children’s Center Executive Director Donna Preminger replied, “It is a seamless transition as far as the children in the program are concerned. All the same programs are being run; there are no cuts to scholarships, and no cuts to what they get from the program.”
Preminger acknowledged, however, that they felt a necessity to make changes at the C.I.T. and counselor levels, as well as with the adult staffing. The pressure, she says, was economic: “We can’t hire anyone under the age of 16. With our budget, we just can’t afford it.” Part of the problem, she says, is Board of Health regulations, and part of it is new costs that were not part of the previous ATLAST budget.
According to Preminger, Board of Health regulations say that “no one under the age of 16 can EVER be left alone with a child – not even to take them down the hall to the bathroom. And we can’t afford to hire anybody who won’t count into our ratio (i.e. of adults to children).”
In addition, there are several significant new costs being charged to the program this year that were not, according to Preminger, charged ATLAST in the past. “Custodial is a big number,” she said. (The ability to recoup approximately $30,000 custodial expenses was one reason cited by the administration in favor of the change.)
There are other new expenses as well, which the not-for-profit Children’s Center must pay: “We have to pay money for advertising, and for printing – the district had its own print shop right there,” said Preminger. “And one thing that wasn’t in the (previous) ATLAST budget, to my knowledge, is insurance. We have to buy insurance to cover every camper and staffer. It’s thousands of dollars, and it’s not in the budget, as far as I can see it, for (previous years of) ATLAST.” She surmises it was covered some other way by the school district, in the past, but it is a new expense for the Children’s Center.
Preminger says one of the changes she wanted to make, this year, was keeping more of the “mature,” i.e. adult staff for a full day; in the past, many of the teachers worked only in the mornings, she said, and the afternoon was run mainly by teenaged or college-aged counselors. The net result, she hopes, will be more and older supervision for the younger children. “We listened to families and supervisory staff about their recommendations for how to structure staff this summer.”
In future, if they get to run the program again, Preminger would like to address the disconnect that some teens are experiencing this year. Currently, the “Intermediate” level of camper covers grades three through eight, with the (about-to-be) seventh and eighth graders having a choice of being a camper or a C.I.T. In future, Preminger would like to create a new level of camper for the seventh and eighth graders (generally, 12 and 13 year-olds), which she thinks of as an “Adventure” or “Community” program. Then C.I.T. training would start after that level, for 14 and 15 year-olds, with paid employment beginning at age 16. This, says Preminger, would be more consistent with what surrounding day-camp programs are doing; she named Pierce, North Shore, and the Glen Cove Y for comparison.
In the meantime, Lizzie Meyer, Doriana Hyman, and other area teens are busily examining their options.