The Power of Community

Isaacs Center Beacon Programs Turn Schools into Community Centers

They snuggled them. They tossed them in the air. They even wore them on their heads. The children in our Beacon After School at PS 198 found many creative ways to express their excitement about the long-eared stuffed bunny toys they received as a gift from Singapore Airlines. 

They had made thank-you cards for the visiting airline representatives, but a third-grader named Emma took things a step further. She went to the front of the auditorium to thank them in person. She had already named her bunny. 

“Bun Bun likes to eat carrots,” she explained. “Bun Bun also like to hop around, and Bun Bun likes to annoy Noah”—she threw a sassy glance at a nearby friend. 

It was all pretty normal kid behavior—and Beacon Director Maribel Mejia was glad to see it. After all the disruptions imposed by the COVID pandemic, she said, young people have been struggling to get the hang of group interactions again. 

“When we returned, a lot of staff saw that it was a lot harder for kids to share with each other and do activities together.  Communication skills had fallen off,” she said. The staff has been focusing on social-emotional learning activities to help bolster those abilities: “We give them the chance to share how they feel and share their ideas.”  

At our second Beacon, located at MS 224, Director Tamar Joseph said his staff noticed the same rustiness around socialization at first. “They’re getting back into the groove of things. Now they’re understanding the teamwork—it’s not just ‘my way or the highway,’” he laughs. 

Beacons are a uniquely New York City phenomenon. Launched by Mayor David Dinkins in 1991, they turn unused school space into miniature community centers during afternoons, evenings and weekends. There are now 91 Beacons throughout the five boroughs.  

All Beacons offer an After School program. These serve as a foundational support system for families, giving children a safe and enriching place to spend the afternoons while enabling their parents to work. Our Beacon 2 After School at MS 224 serves elementary, middle and high schoolers, while Beacon 1 hosts first-through fifth-graders.  

When After School is over, the Beacons go on to serve adults with fitness and other activities. In the evenings and on weekends, both Isaacs Center Beacons offer basketball, soccer, yoga and dance (at Beacon 1 it’s specifically African Dance). In addition, Beacon 1 has Karate while Beacon 2 offers Boxercise. These programs are open to the community. Click here to see schedules for both Beacons.