PITTSFIELD — When it comes to school budgets, extracurricular and out-of-school programs are among the first line items to be cut. But for the next three years, the state has awarded two city schools grants funded by a federal program designed to give kids and families constructive and creative after-school opportunities.
Herberg Middle School has been awarded $123,250 to continue its after-school program under the national 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. The announcement of $1.7 million in total awards to 17 schools in the commonwealth came earlier this week from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester. This current round of grants is expected to reach some 3,500 public school students statewide.
"Additional learning time will give students more opportunities to work on core skills and participate in enrichment activities," said Gov. Charlie Baker in a press announcement regarding the grant awards.
Pittsfield's 21st Century Community Learning Center coordinator for the district, Meagan Ireland, told The Eagle that Morningside Community School has also been approved this year as a new Community Learning Center site, and will receive $125,000 per year for the next three years to get its after-school program up and running.
Five schools within the city's district are now a part of this network. The others include Conte Community School, Reid Middle School and Pittsfield High School. Funds help supply staff, materials and meals for kids.
"We're pretty excited," Ireland said.
As Herberg began implementing its initial three-year cycle, which began in the 2013-14 school year, Ireland began working with district and school colleagues to prepare Herberg to apply for a second, more competitive round of funding for a second three-year cycle. Schools seeking competitive funds in this program must demonstrate their potential to not only serve the students of that school but to also be a model for other schools in the commonwealth.
Back in the spring, Herberg went through an intensive grant-writing process, and also had a state official visit to conduct and hour-long panel interview and a two-and-a-half-hour observational review, before being notified last week of continuing funds.
Mallory Reddy, an eighth-grade English language arts teacher serves as the site coordinator for Herberg's Community Learning Center. She overseas the 30-week school year program, which offers a fall, winter and spring session, as well as the five-week summer program. During the school year, a participant's school day is extended to 5 p.m.
Grants require that programs serve at least 65 students, focusing on English language learners, students with learning disabilities and students who face an economic disadvantage. In terms of interest, Herberg has had to cap its program to 80 students, while maintaining a steady waitlist of 30 additionally interested kids.
Each meeting includes a homework help and/or academic support component tied into an enrichment class, like sewing, cooking, theater, even the educational edition of the popular game Minecraft.
The theme of this summer's session was forensics, and the school will be offering a similarly themed session this fall.
"Our focus this year is strengthening project-based learning," Ireland said.
The Herberg after-school program includes programs facilitated through community partners, including staff from the Berkshire Museum, Berkshire Theatre Group, Mass Audubon's Berkshire Sanctuaries, and IS183 Art School of the Berkshires.
These partnerships will be extended to the new Morningside program, which will serve students in grades 2 through 5. It will focus on the theme of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — the types of enrichment, a survey indicated, that students in the school don't have much access to. Ireland said that family engagement programs will also be a focus at Morningside.
The Pittsfield Community Learning Centers programs all include at least a snack and bus transportation; summer programs include breakfast and lunch. At Morningside, site coordinators are exploring the idea of offering a dinner program that will tie into parent workshops. The parent programs this year might include workshops on how to access the school's online system that tracks their students' data, and topics like "How to prepare for a parent-teacher conference."
Reddy said the program not only benefits students and families, but also staff members.
"Our goal is to find staff that also breathe that passion to help students succeed and stay safe. They often teach and stay here until 5 o'clock at night ... I think most teachers, if you surveyed them, would say that it helps build better relationships with students."
"It helps establish a strong sense of community within the school," Ireland said.
Reporter Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.