County Gets $300K For After School Programs

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Public School (WCPS) system is one of 22 programs in the state to get a portion of $6.8 million in after school grants from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).
Worcester’s slice of the pie amounts to $300,000, which educators said will be used to bolster student programs at Snow Hill Middle School (SHMS) and Pocomoke Middle School (PMS).
The $300,000 isn’t coming completely out of the blue but was far from guaranteed, according to Tamara Mills, coordinator of instruction for after school academies.
“We had applied back in the spring. Of course, the grant process is becoming much more rigorous so it was a pleasant surprise when we found out that we were awarded one of the grants,” she said.
There’s an uncertainty going into every year with state grants. WCPS had to scramble last year to make up funding for some of their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) after school programs when anticipated grants were discontinued without explanation. Worcester was able to keep the programs afloat through inter-department budget transfers as well as requesting additional monies from the Worcester County Commission.
The programs are in good shape so far this year, though, with the confirmation of the MSDE grant this week.
“This grant will allow us to keep from having to limit any of our programs and allow us some flexibility to move forward with some of our STEM initiatives,” said Mills.
The kind of programs that WCPS will be focusing on this year include a Science Olympiad where students will have a chance to explore the county’s new generation science standards.
“They’re given projects and challenges and then they’ll compete in solving those problems,” Mills said, “so that’s a really fun activity that we’re excited about and that we can use this grant money for.”
There will also be a continuation of the Sea Perch underwater robotics program, which is in conjuncture with the Naval Academy, and a new emphasis on understanding alternative energy, specifically with wind power, which Mills said will be a pillar of after school academies this year and will spill over into summer STEM programs.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities of seeing what the kids can do in that arena,” said Mills.
The $300,000 will be applied to SHMS and PMS after school programs for grades 6 to 8. There are similar programs at Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS) that won’t be affected by the grant but Mills said that they already have healthy funding.
“We’ve been fortunate that our community has been a big support,” she said.
The funding is coming from MSDE through the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program (CCLC). The grants are directed towards schools that are either high poverty or identified for improvement. One indicator looked at to gauge poverty level is the ratio of students on FARMS (Free and Reduced Meals) which is above average at both SHMS and PMS.
The goal of the funding across the state is to better tie-in what’s being learned in the classroom with what is being offered after schools, according to a release from MDE.
“The purpose of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is to create centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities that support what is learned in the classroom,” it read.
After school academies at WCPS meet Monday through Thursday 24 weeks out of the year, with a connected four-week summer program.