NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The end of the academic year has been rough for the Bronx Academy of Letters.

While learning remotely, their beloved Principal Erin Gerry passed away. Now as part of city budget cuts, they’re losing more than half their guidance counselors – leaving just three to help them heal and move forward when school resumes in the fall.

CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez spoke with one of the three remaining counselors, Kevin Brooks.

“This is trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma,” Brooks said. “So the one thing that we do not need there is less counselors in the building.”

With the city’s elimination of the Single Shepherd Initiative, more than 100 counselors are being removed from dozens of middle and high schools in low-income, at-risk communities in Brownsville, Brooklyn and the South Bronx.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told Sanchez the Department of Education has to cut more than $600 million. He would not say how much the city is saving by cutting the Single Shepherd Initiative

The counselors are temporarily assigned to their current school until they find permanent placement in another school within the DOE.

“We do not want to reduce the number of social workers or guidance counselors, especially now, understanding the trauma that our families in our community have gone through,” said Carranza. “But, the infrastructure and the administrative infrastructure, is one of the cuts.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the program in 2015 to increase graduation rates in struggling schools.

“One year into Single Shepherd, our graduation rate rose 30%. In one year,” said Brooks. “Ever since then, our graduation rate has been hovering at 80% or above 80%.”

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Brooks counseled 2019 graduate Moe Sanders, who is now a rising sophomore at Skidmore College. She says because of Single Shepherd, counselors have management case loads and give students like her the year-round, one-on-one attention and encouragement they need to succeed.

“I did not think I would attend a prestigious college and be given the opportunities that I’ve been given,” Sanders said. “It’s only because of the support system.”

The Department of Education would not disclose how much the city is saving by cutting the program, only saying the savings were “non-personnel” costs.

School resources clinicians and crisis support teams, funding by ThriveNYC, will help with social-emotional counseling, while Single Shepherd counselors are reassigned to other areas in the DOE.

Thousands have signed a Change.org petition to save the program, which many students, like Bronx Letters graduate Matt Diaz, say gave them hope.

“Before taking away a program, you should see if it works. If it’s not working, I get it, I understand it. But it clearly has impacted our school so much,” he said.

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“Some of them are first generation college-bound. A lot of them have suffered a lot of trauma before just in life,” Brooks added. “So a program like this gives them a lot of extra adults, a lot of extra love in the building.”

Brooks anticipates his caseload will go from about 100 students to more than 300.

“If they go through with this, which this is the direction it’s headed in, they’re saying that these young people aren’t as worthy,” he said. “That’s definitely the message that it sends.”

He said if the DOE doesn’t reverse its decision, it’s abandoning the children who need support most.

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