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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Nashua after-school program at middle schools to close because of funding

NASHUA – With no other funding sources available and a tight city budget, the School District’s
after-school program for middle school students will close indefinitely on June 30.

This year marks the end of a five-year grant that funded after-school programs at Elm Street, Pennichuck and Fairgrounds middle schools, said Sue Almeida, coordinator of the 21st Century Extended Day Program. ...

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NASHUA – With no other funding sources available and a tight city budget, the School District’s
after-school program for middle school students will close indefinitely on June 30.

This year marks the end of a five-year grant that funded after-school programs at Elm Street, Pennichuck and Fairgrounds middle schools, said Sue Almeida, coordinator of the 21st Century Extended Day Program.

Almeida said closing the program affects about 40-50 students per middle school and that parents have been notified.

The far more popular elementary school programs, which are also funded by a 21st Century Grant, do not share the same fate.

“The district received a five-year extension of our elementary programs last year in a similar grant process, so thankfully this outcome does not affect our elementary programs,” Superintendent Mark Conrad said.

“We happened to do the middle school in a different year,” Almeida said. “We still have four more years of elementary programs.”

After-school care

Nationally, millions of families access after-school care to keep their children safe and supervised.

National statistics show 3-6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex, according to the Afterschool
Alliance, a nonprofit organization trying to improve access to quality
after-school programs.

A state-by-state report shows “much more effort is necessary” in New Hampshire to improve access to after-school programs. The biggest hurdle for states typically is funding.

In 2012, an Afterschool Alliance poll found that 76 percent of Americans believe federal, state and local leaders should increase funding for after-school programs given the current challenging economic environment.

In New Hampshire, the number of children enrolled in after-school programs is slipping.

The percentage of children in after-school care has dropped from 18 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2009, according to the Afterschool Alliance.

In the meantime, the number of children in “self-care” after school rose from 23 percent to 41 percent in the same period.

Meanwhile, 87 percent of parents reported they were satisfied with their children’s after-school programs, an increase of 10 percent in five years.

Other options

The closure of the program doesn’t mean middle school families have no options next year.

The 21st Century Extended Day Program has been running in collaboration with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua since 2000 for the elementary programs and since 2001 for middle schools.

The club’s chief operating officer, Kurt Norris, is working with Almeida to create options for other middle school programs.

“Regardless of the outcomes, programs for all youth at the Nashua middle schools will continue at the Boys & Girls Club,” Norris said in a statement.

“These youth can be bused from Elm Street, Fairgrounds and Pennichuck, enjoy an after-school snack, participate in Power Hour Homework Help programs, enjoy dinner, engage in programs like leadership groups, healthy habits initiatives, sports programming, cultural arts programs and much more.”

The Boys & Girls Club and other Nashua programs say they would have the capacity to absorb more students, but transportation home isn’t available to all students and some parents may have to travel to a new program.

The YMCA of Greater Nashua, Girls Inc. and the Boys & Girls Club all host after-school programs, and enrollment fees vary.

“While we have many other after-school activities across our schools at different times, we do not offer, nor do we have funding for, other organized after-school programs similar to the 21st Century program,” Conrad said.

“We’ve inquired at the state level, and they’ve confirmed there will not be another round of funding for two years.”

At the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, member Dorothy Oden urged Conrad to take more action to extend the program.

“Middle school students can be some of our most vulnerable students,” she said.

“I don’t know what the district can do, but I would encourage us to look for ways … to continue the program.”

Although there might be other funding efforts over time, the program requires support in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Periodic fundraising efforts would be hard-pressed to sustain the extended day program, Conrad said.

“If we were able to find another source, we’ll certainly pursue it,” he said.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).