By John Burton
Middle school after-school programs impacted
RED BANK – The loss of federal funding for the public school district’s after-school enrichment programs has meant local education officials have had to seek other ways of providing for at least some of those programs.
The district was not renewed for the 21st Century Community Centers grant program, which had given the district $480,000 a year for the last five years, according to Laura Morana, the superintendent of schools.
The funding had been used for an array of after-school programs for the district’s middle school. The money allowed the district to underwrite programs from 3 to 6 p.m. and to support a portion of the summer program, allowing the kids to participate in such activities as a robotics class, video editing, study skills, a dance program and some recreational activities for the hour from 5 to 6 p.m.
Board of Education President Ben Forest called the loss of the funds “pretty devastating.”
As both a parent and a board member, “We felt it right at home,” Forest said as the district looked at the possible loss of programs his daughter had participated in at the school. “I can’t tell you how unhappy I am on so many levels with the loss of the 21st Century grant.”
With the loss of the money, Morana and district officials have been looking for alternatives to continue providing some comparable programs. They have been in discussions with the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County, which has been operating a facility at 138 Drs. James Parker Blvd. since 2009, along with its Asbury Park location.
“It may not be exactly the same program we had,” Morana said, but she hoped the district will be able to finalize the details and implement the club’s programs by mid-October.
The biggest difference between what the district was offering with the grant and what the club will have available will be that there will now be a cost to families whose children participate, said Douglas Eagles, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club.
“We just can’t afford to” offer the services free, Eagles said. “We’re trying to come up with a reasonable fee structure that won’t be overly burdensome on the families but one that will enable us to implement the program in a reasonable way.”
The district is looking for other funding sources to hopefully offset the costs, Morana said.
“Our goal is to make it responsive to the needs of the families and children of the middle school,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Education funds the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, awarding the money to states which then administer the money.
The program, according to the federal education department description, is intended to provide academic enrichment opportunities during nonschool hours, especially for high poverty and low-performing schools.
When the district reapplied this year it met the eligibility criteria, but there was less money available this year, according to Morana.
The district plans to reapply in the spring for the next funding cycle, she said.
About 200 middle school students took advantage of the after-school programs with about 100 staying for the 5-6 p.m. recreational hour.
“It’s unfortunate,” Eagles said about the district losing the funding. “There are so many families that depended on that service and that quality of programming.”