PLEASANTVILLE — Shaun Saunders, 17, of Pleasantville, admits she was getting a little depressed about not being able to find a summer job.

Then a friend told her about the Beat The Streets program run by the Pleasantville school district, which pays about $7.25 per hour for working in the district schools.

“I rushed to fill out the application,” she said. She was accepted, and just began working at Washington Avenue Elementary School, helping the maintenance department clean and prepare the school for September.

Started in 2010, the program’s vision is “to provide a safe alternative to negative activities that plague our streets”

During the 2011-12 school year the program had 107 student mentors working in the after-school program. This summer, about 80 students in grades eight to 12 are working part-time in the district’s summer school and after-care program as assistants to the teaching and maintenance staff, and mentors to younger students.

School Superintendent Garnell Bailey said limited job and transportation options give city students little to do in the summer.

“No one hires our kids,” she said.

Students interviewed said they had applied for a number of jobs but never heard back.

“It means a lot to have this when you can’t find anything,” said Marvins Breville, 18.

Workplace mentor Linda Henderson works with the teens at Washington Avenue School, mentoring them while they mentor younger children. For many this is their first job, and they had to fill out an application and attend a job interview and orientation on workplace rules and behavior.

“We do look at their report cards and attendance, but they don’t have to be perfect,” Henderson said. “We’re giving them a chance to prove themselves. This is an investment in our community.”

That investment is not inexpensive. A report presented to the school board in May showed the program cost about $600,000 in salaries alone during the 2011-12 school year, with more than half going to pay student workers, including those in the district school-to-careers program.

But statistics provided by the Pleasantville Police Department show the number of juvenile arrests has dropped from 136 in 2009-10 to 68 in 2010-11 and just 20 in 2011-12. Sgt. Richard Moore, police liaison to the Beat the Streets program, said it has been effective in giving students an alternative to just hanging around and maybe getting into trouble.

“There has been nothing major this year, just some minor things like noise complaints,” he said. “I definitely support the program. It has had an impact.”

Cynthia Ruiz-Cooper, who transferred from the high school to become principal at Washington Avenue School, said the jobs are motivation for students to keep up their grades so they don’t lose their job. Students must reapply every year.

Henderson said the jobs can change students’ outlook on life.

“It changes your peer group. Now you hang around with other kids who work,” Henderson said. “You learn how to act as an employee.”

Some students, such as Cristal Nazario-Martinez, 17, like working with kids. Others, such as Jean Garcia, 17, want to earn money for college or a car. He’s hoping to find a second job, but like many of his classmates, so far has had no luck.

“I’ve tried applying to so many other jobs,” said Madjaline Joseph, 18, a senior who runs track and plays volleyball. “I’ve been to Wawa four times.”

So while cleaning classrooms may not be her ideal summer job, she’s grateful for the opportunity to earn some money and get some job experience.

“At least I’m doing something,” she said.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241