Grants, Budget Cuts May Doom After-School Programs

NEWARK – After-school programs in Worcester County schools are essential to school success, but funding for the after-school academies could be endangered by budget cuts and closing grants, county Board of Education staff say.

According to Board of Education spokesperson Barb Witherow, 12 of 14 county schools have after-school programs, with just specialty schools Worcester Technical High School and Cedar Chapel Special School without a post-school day academy.

Those programs serve roughly 1,900 students, about 29 percent of the student population.

“Funding is in jeopardy for our after-school academies, particularly for our 4th through 8th grade programs and our high school programs,” said Dr. Richard Walker, assistant superintendent for instruction. “Grant funding for our 4th through 8th grade programs will be ending, while additional grant funding for our high school programs will be reduced.”

Forty-five percent of the funding needed for those dozen schools comes from grants. The remainder is on the county’s dime. Nine of the schools receive some grant funds, with only Showell Elementary School, Stephen Decatur Middle School, and Stephen Decatur High School programs solely county funded.

Some schools have more extensive programs than others, based on funding. Ocean City Elementary, for example, has a limited program because of funding constraints, and meets on fewer days, while Berlin Intermediate School has an extensive program.

After-school programs in the county began with Project Outreach at Buckingham Elementary School in Berlin in 1998, funded with state grants for three years.

“After a certain period of time, the grant will be reduced in funding, until it’s zero,” said Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.

When grant funding runs out, the school board traditionally goes to the county to ask for money to continue the after school program in question.

This year, faced with a 3-percent mandatory cut from the 2008 funding level, and increases in the cost of services and supplies, several impending grant closures could pose a problem for the school system.

“This is the last year, the fifth year, of the grant funding Pocomoke Middle, Snow Hill Middle and Berlin Intermediate School after school programs, plus the fourth grade after school program at Buckingham Elementary School,” Andes said.

According to Andes, the school system does not ask for county monies for previously grant funded initiatives unless that effort has paid off.

“We sit down and analyze it. We look at the data. Has it made a significant difference for our students? If it has not, we don’t pursue it,” Andes said.

After-school programs offer a continuation of the academic day, with both basic skills support and gifted and talented tracks. “It’s not baby-sitting. It’s a full academic program,” said Andes.

“The old adage of ‘teaching to the middle’ leaves behind students on either end of the spectrum,” said Walker. “Teaching to the middle leaves out those who need more support to meet challenges, just as it leaves out those who need enrichment to discover greater challenges.”

According to Andes, after-school programs are essential to education in Worcester County schools.

“Even though we continue to seek additional grants to support existing programs, these programs, which contribute to the academic success of our children, are in real jeopardy. It is a very distressing reality,” said Walker.