Rivera defends ‘late’ SoNoCC After the Bell program debut

Renovations at the South Norwalk Community Center are nearly complete, Executive Director Kelly Robertson said.

NORWALK, Conn. – An after-school program for South Norwalk children can’t start soon enough, a “saddened and disappointed” South Norwalk grandmother said, expressing frustration that the After the Bell program will not be starting at the South Norwalk Community Center for months.

“These kids with the achievement gap, it’s an uphill battle,” Georgiana Scott said. “They need extra help, this is why the after-school program, the Saturday program, it’s vital. Every minute is precious. … It just moves so slowly. Before you know it it’s the end of the year.”

In March, Norwalk Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera announced plans to open an After the Bell program (AFB) at the center, which was scheduled to be renovated with $200,000 in Community Block Grant Development funds. This would make after-school activities available to some of the 500 South Norwalk children who have no home school, allowing them more opportunities for learning and the opportunity to form relationships with children in their own neighborhood.

According to the memorandum of intent from Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera and then-SoNoCC Director Marina Forero-Ferrandino, the program was to begin in September. However, the program will now open in December or January, Rivera said this week. Rivera asserted that the plan all along was to open in December.

In July, Rivera said he was hoping to open in the fall.

“It’s still our intention to operate an After the Bell program in South Norwalk, and we plan to continue working with leaders at SoNoCC and other community organizations to make it happen,” Rivera said in an email. “That said, there are a number of steps that need to take place before we can open the doors in a location, including inspections, state licensing, staffing, etc.  We hope to keep any potential delays to a minimum so that this program can open sometime this fall.”

“We’re hoping that it’s going to be done before the end of next month, but at least the first phase, because there are three phases and we’re going to do the first two,” SoNoCC board Chairman Ed Camacho said in July. “But at a minimum before the end of September so that we’ll be able to get the kids in there by October by the latest.”

“We are expecting the facility to be completed soon,” Rivera said Tuesday. “Obviously, we had hoped that it would have been completed by mid-September, but the plan that we have for the program, really at this point, wouldn’t have the after-school program beginning until the second semester. Our initial planning start date was December. Now it would go to January so it will be a second semester program ultimately.

“We knew, even after the construction would be completed, we would have to go through a licensing process,” he continued. “We may not require a licensing process. Obviously you have to go through a lottery for students, you have to hire staff, you have to go through all the mechanics to get the program fully staffed and ready, so we assumed at least about 60 days for that.”

NPS Communications Director Brenda Williams suggested that the renovations at SoNoCC had taken longer than expected.

SoNoCC Executive Director Kelly Robertson said Thursday, “The renovation should be done within a week, maybe two weeks. We had a soft date of Sept. 15, which was really to be done by Sept. 30. I think we’re pretty much still on schedule. On Sept. 30 I’m looking for it to be done. If it’s not it’s going to be so close, it won’t be a difference.”

The move to create a new location for AFB to serve the District 99 children met some resistance in March and April, and longtime-Democratic activist Bobby Burgess spoke to the Board of Education at its April 7 meeting.

“I wonder what happened to community input and community participation,” Burgess said. “We are not saying we are for or against, it’s the lack of knowledge to clearly understand what we are doing and how we are doing it. … I think it is a sin that you plan a community program like this and we don’t know about it.”

Scott echoed those sentiments.

“He said on numerous occasions that he’d reach out to the community,” Scott said of Rivera. “… It’s ‘Let’s move on this,’ and not even to meet with the parents. I think it’s disappointing.”

Scott is raising a grandchild who would not be eligible for the After the Bell program, she said. Her grandson is fine, but she worries about the other children, she said.

“You have people speaking for our district. I have never spoken to them. Why not meet with us and have a community meeting? The Board (of Education) is sad,” she said.

Rivera said he is out in the community three or four nights a week, more than he ever has been. That includes visiting with Parent Teacher Organizations as well as BoE meetings, he said.

Rivera said he thinks 60 to 100 children will be able to attend the SoNoCC AFB program.

“I think there is a second site as well that we have had several meetings about. We are planning the same track, which is in partnership with the Norwalk Housing Authority,” Rivera said.

Rivera said in April he was in the process of preparing a letter of intent for another site for after-school learning, mentioning visits to Washington Village and Colonial Village, and talks with a pastor regarding a church.

As far as the “delayed” program at SoNoCC goes, Rivera said, “We’re in the ballpark and if the discrepancy is 30 days, 45 days, whatever it is, hey, when you open a new program things tend to happen. … It’s coming and it will open. In a start-up year you try to make sure that you get everything right and you dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. The worst mistake in the world would be to open something when you’re not ready.”


2 responses to “Rivera defends ‘late’ SoNoCC After the Bell program debut”

  1. fedUP

    Relax people…your FREE babysitting program is coming……

  2. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Dead on and wait and see who gets hirer(afterschool teacher or volunteers) and what children will attend. Will this be for the all of South Norwalk Community Children ? There are state and federal guidelines

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