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“There’s a lot of devastation,” After-school programs brace for budget cuts

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Budget cuts figure to stay with students, even after they leave school for the summer.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County expect to feel the effects of $30 million in planned reductions by Oklahoma City Public Schools, beginning next week, when school will end two days early.

"Their loss will be even greater than their peers who have more opportunities," said Jane Sutter, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs. "It's devastating, really. It makes me so sad. It is really time for our state leadership, our community leadership, everybody to make kids come first."

The program will stay open all day Thursday and Friday at its Memorial Park location, trying to accommodate hundreds of children who would otherwise be left without a place to go during the day.

One location, at Telstar Elementary, will stay closed all summer to save money, Sutter said.

"So, the kids will be home alone, a lot of them or out getting in trouble," she said. "It's a very economically challenged area of our community. There are not a lot of options for those kids. So, not only will they not get a nutritious meal probably during the day, they won't have positive activities to help them grow and learn."

Boys and Girls Clubs offer after-school tutoring, food and other activities to more than 800 children every day.

Often, the breakfast, lunch and 'snacks' provided can substitute for meals.

"We know our parents really rely on that," Sutter said. "We call it a snack, but it usually looks like dinner."

Four locations provide academic services with the help of volunteers like Amber Bointy.

"Anything that they're cutting back on is too much to cut back on, because the kids need everything they can get as far as education is concerned," she said. "That really saddens me, because I know how important our time is here with them for that hour of homework that they have."

Struggling students will have less time to attend summer courses.

OKCPS reduced its intersessions from five days to three to save money.

It's a move Associate Superintendent Aurora Lora acknowledged will harm students academically.

"For them to not have that extra tutoring that I know they need, it's just very sad. I think that it's really going to affect their progress," Bointy said.

The Boys and Girls Clubs are counting on the community to help the organization get through tough times, but otherwise Sutter said her staff will just have to do the best it can.

"Missing out on food is horrible," she said. "That's a basic need. Missing out on educational opportunities and enrichment is also really important in a child's development, and missing out on an opportunity to serve those students is devastating.

"We just do the best we can with what we have."