Trump budget threatens after-school programs for more than 10,000 N.H. students

  • Asher ElGeneidy jumps to demonstrate the game his team invented Tuesday during an after-school program funded through the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program at Abbot-Downing School. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

  • Teachers help students with homework during an after-school program funded through the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program at Abbot-Downing School in Concord on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Students participate in a Lego robotics club during an after-school program funded through the program at Abbot-Downing School.

  • Students invent games during an after-school program funded through the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program at Abbot-Downing School in Concord on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Judy Buckley reads to fourth-grader Connie Nadeau while other students work on homework or read during an after-school program funded through the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program at Abbot-Downing School in Concord on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Students invent games during an after-school program funded through the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program at Abbot-Downing School in Concord on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 3/29/2017 7:41:33 PM

Fourth-grader Ally Moore was wrapping up her reading homework a little before 4 p.m.

Ally, a student at Abbot-Downing School in Concord, said she probably gets the most help when it comes to writing. But the best part of her after-school program? That’s what comes after homework.

“I like the clubs the best. They’re usually pretty fun – like arts and crafts, or inventing things,” she said.

Next, Ally would go to the cafeteria, where students split into groups of five or six and worked on a Lego challenge. Down the hall in the gym, first- through fifth-graders were inventing sports games and teaching their peers how to play them.

Ally’s after-school program is one of thousands on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which zeros out funding for the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program starting next year.

If Congress greenlights the president’s plan, the $1.2 billion 21CCLC program will go away, and with it, federal support for before- and after-school programs that cover 1.6 million students nationwide in kindergarten through Grade 12.

Thousands of those students are in New Hampshire.

21st Century programs in the Granite State received $5.64 million collectively from the federal government last year and served 10,602 kids across the state, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education, which administers the state’s grants. A little more than half of participating students were on free and reduced-price lunch. In total, 24 communities benefited, running 67 sites.

The Concord School District alone runs six 21CCLC sites in partnership with local organizations and provided programming for nearly 1,200 students last year. At the high school level, free programming ranges from homework help to English language learner tutoring, SAT prep, college application help, cooking classes, substance abuse counseling and yoga.

For Concord middle school students, there’s tutoring, a bevy of STEM enrichment offerings – including underwater robotics – and even a drumming class. Families pay $50 a year. At the elementary level, the first six hours of weekly programming are free, but the rest are charged on a sliding scale according to income.

At 21CCLC programs elsewhere in the state, administrators said their programs provide kids with critical social and emotional support, academic help, and enrichment opportunities.

“There’s a stigma that we’re a baby-sitting program. But we’re so much more,” said Jean Richards, the director of Barnstead’s 21CCLC program.

The Barnstead program serves more than 70 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Richards said about half of the students in her program come from families who couldn’t afford another option. And the other half?

“(Parents) send their kids because there’s no place else to send them,” she said.

Barnstead isn’t the only community with a dearth of after-school options. Nationally, there are two children on waiting lists for every child in a program, according to the Afterschool Alliance, and nonprofit advocate for after-school programs. In rural areas, the problem is even worse, with three children on waiting lists for every one child in a program.

The Trump administration has defended the proposal to cut the program by arguing that the 21CCLC programs just aren’t getting the job done.

“They’re supposed to be educational programs, right?” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney asked reporters earlier this month. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, they’re helping kids do better in school.”

Nationally, there is, in fact, research that shows students in 21CCLC programs do better. Improvements in test scores and grades are typically modest, according to PolitiFact. But advocates note that rates of absenteeism, progressing to the next grade, graduation rates, and behavioral problems tend to see marked improvements.

For Susan Farrelly, the Concord 21CCLC program director, after-school’s wheelhouse is really helping student “buy-in” for education. Participants have made steady gains in academics, she said, but it’s the students who choose not to skip school on a nice spring day so they can go to after-school that she said really stick with her.

At the Concord High School program, 77 percent of participants saw their absences go down during the 2015-16 school year, and 89 percent “increased or maintained” their GPA, according to data provided by the district. Across all of the district’s sites, 85 percent of participants reported having positive feelings toward school.

Picking up her 9-year-old son Codey at Abbot-Downing on Wednesday, Christina Catino said the program is “so invaluable.” She said her son loves the games he plays during after school, and that she appreciates all the targeted academic help he gets.

“I don’t get back into Concord from my job until now. So I have to have that. And my husband works different hours. And the fact that it’s so closely tied to their curriculum is amazing – and to have such talented people,” she said.

Alex Brea agreed, saying that with both he and son’s mother working, it’s tough to fill the gap between when classes end and the workday ends. He said Concord’s after-school program is a “worry-free” place third-grader Adrian can get help with his homework – and tire himself out playing with friends.

Without it, Brea said, he might have to quit working.

“One of us would have to not work and be there for Adrian. So that’s income loss. And just basically there aren’t that many programs out there to leave your children in a place that you can trust,” Brea said.

The different Concord sites enjoy varying levels of support from federal grants, and Concord program director Farrelly isn’t sure what would happen if federal funding were zeroed out. Programming would probably continue in some form or another, but busing would almost certainly go. And the programs would likely have to start charging for most of what’s currently offered free of charge.

But Shaneikiah Bickham, who runs a 21st Century program in Portsmouth for more than 100 students, isn’t even that optimistic.

“I don’t think we would stay open,” she said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy