Selecting the Best After-School Programs for Your Child in Staten Island

Parents are faced with so many important decisions when it comes to their children’s well-being — and choosing the correct after-school activities to excite and engage their kids is one of the many careful, thought-provoking financial and personal commitments they can make. With so many choices available for today’s youngsters — from dancing school, baseball, and karate to swimming, Scouts, music lessons and more — there is no shortage of activities, programs, and sports for Staten Island parents from which to choose.

Whether the decision is influenced by the need to broaden their kids’ extra-curricular horizons, promote skill-building or health benefits, or simply as a leisurely hobby or fad explored with classmates or friends, Staten Island parents suggest making the decision that works best with your family’s needs, budget, and schedule. While they have the final say on affordability and eligibility, parents say they do give their kids the option of choosing — or at least trying out — any activity that interests them.

Decision Making

When Karen Ambrosio and her husband, Ciro, wanted their daughters Gabriella, 10, and Isabella, 6, to try a new after-school activity, they chose flag football and martial arts. “Gabby was lacking self confidence because she wasn’t fitting in with the girls at dance,” Mrs. Ambrosio of Tottenville explained. So they gave flag football a try because they had friends involved in it, while Mr. Ambrosio heard good things about martial arts.

“We also wanted them to do activities that involved a lot of activity,” Mrs. Ambrosio said of her daughters who will attend fifth and first grade in September. What started out as a trial experience soon ended up as a permanent solution, she added, calling it the “best decision” they ever made. The family’s schedule includes flag football and karate for both girls, in addition to Girl Scouts twice a month for Isabella, who also squeezes in speech services twice a week as well as CCD.

Interest and need, followed by cost and scheduling is what drives the decision-making process in the Lyons family of Castleton Corners. “We have three kids and our budget is tight, so we take advantage of any free programs we find offered that the kids would like,” mom Kathy said. “We also make sure the programs do not overlap and our kids will be able to attend games, practices, and classes because we want to teach them to be committed to what they do”.

Their after-school schedule includes a plethora of activities for all three boys — Jack, almost 13, Brendan, 11, and Matthew, 4. Both Jack and Brendan play basketball, soccer, baseball, and golf, and attend English and Language Arts and math prep classes, as well as lacrosse camp. Jack also takes comic book drawing classes and TACHS prep classes, while Brendan attends cooking classes, and Matthew takes soccer and swim classes — and may add basketball in the fall. “I like to keep them active to keep them moving and off their phones and away from sitting in front of video games all day,” she added.

Juggling Act

Sometimes busy and hectic after-school schedules can be grueling, but parents say they rely on everything from sharing the carpool duties with grandparents to scheduling apps. Mrs. Lyons said her husband stays home with the boys and coaches many of their teams, and her in-laws step in to help coach games, drop off or pick up during conflicting schedules, or watch the younger boys until she gets home from work. She said she also turns to the Cozi Family Organizer app to help keep their family’s days in order.

With two daughters on a competitive dance team, a son involved in sports, and two full-time work schedules, Ann and Anthony Bilotti of Randall Manor are no strangers to juggling a heavy load of after-school activities for their kids. After trying out other programs, such as Girl Scouts and soccer, her kids gave those up when there were scheduling conflicts and had to be more selective.

“I let the kids decide what they are interested in and have them prioritize,” Mrs. Bilotti explained. “My kids would try to do more if time was not an issue,” she added.

Lili, 11, and Gina, 9, attend dance classes four to five days a week, play softball in the spring, and attend a cooking class at school, while son Anthony, 7, plays basketball and baseball.

“We definitely took into consideration what we could afford to do and if the timing worked with our schedules,” she explained. “We both work, so our days are planned to the minute.”

Staying within a budget and avoiding over-scheduling are two important factors that Rozina Vazquez of Travis used in determining her daughters’ time spent after school.

“We need to make sure that while we are giving our daughters these experiences, that we stay within our budget,” she explained. Sophia, 9, will be joining her school’s soccer team in the fall after completing the summer clinic, and is interested in continuing a cooking class as part of her after-school activities. Her sister Samara, who is turning 15 next month, plays volleyball, runs track, and is involved in performing arts — especially in chorus and band.

The cost of after-school care covers Sophia’s after-school programs, while an annual athletic fee in high school allows Samara to play as many sports as she likes — but has to pay separate for gear.“The different activities they are involved in take place at different times during the year, so the cost is spread out, which helps rather than having to pay everything at one time,” Mrs. Vazquez said.

She said her daughters’ interest was another important determinant as she believes after-school activities should give children the outlet to “unwind from the school day.”

“I want to make sure that they get to explore different activities to find what they truly love to do,” Mrs. Vazquez explained, noting that cooking classes were a perfect fit for Sophia who loves cooking and baking and creating her own recipes. “These experiences may inspire what they would like to take up in the future.”

Samara joined volleyball and track to be part of a team and compete with her school, while performing arts allows her to further her love of singing and being on stage.

Meanwhile, timing was also a major consideration, she noted, along with avoiding conflicts with their family’s schedule or overloading the girls’ with too much. “We need to make sure our daughters have downtime,” she added.

Diligence and Dedication

Parents agree they get a lot of cooperation from their children who love the activities they are doing. The Ambrosio sisters manage to balance their academics with their extracurricular activities — even though it can be a struggle at times. “We make it work because the kids are happier and healthier because of it,” Mrs. Ambrosio explained. They are “very good” about getting their homework done — despite having certain nights that are more hectic than others running from activities and sports to family commitments, their mom noted. Even though they are on summer vacation, she said the girls are anxiously-awaiting the next flag football season in the fall. In addition, Gabby will remain in karate classes, where her senseis are highly supportive and instrumental in building her skills and confidence, her mom said.

Emphasizing academics is a key factor in continuing after-school activities, the parents said. “Academically, the boys are doing very well — we make sure that always takes priority,” Mrs. Lyons said.

On days when her daughters will be out longer due to after-school activities, Mrs. Vazquez says the girls try and get homework and studying done the day before — if they know their assignments in advance. “We go through schedules on a weekly basis so that we know what to expect and make time around these activities to make sure that they are balanced with academic work,” she said.

Regardless of the cost and commitment, parents said it is all worth the sacrifice to see their kids happy and content. “If it’s important to you as a family you make it work,” Mrs. Ambrosio added. “Some people don’t understand it,” she said of her daughters’ busy after-school schedules, “but it works best for our family and that is the most important thing.”

Staten Island based writer Christine Albano has fond recollections from the many years of juggling after-school activities from baseball, Girl Scouts, and dance, to violin lessons and football when her kids — now 21, 17, and 15 — were younger.