BHRSD families stand to lose big under Trump’s budget

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By Saturday, Mar 18 News  25 Comments
Under the proposed Trump budget, Project Connection programs at Muddy Brook Elementary School, that allow parents to enroll their children in educational activities while they are at work, would be eliminated.

Great Barrington — Tucked away on page 17 of the 2018 budget proposed by the Trump administration on March 16, subtitled, “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” there is a four-line bombshell. It calls for the elimination of $1.2 billion for the only federally funded before and afterschool program serving this country’s 50 million public school students.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program (21st CCLC) was born as part of the No Child Left Behind legislation passed under President George W. Bush in 2001, with the aim of reducing the achievement gap between white, wealthier kids and low-income and minority kids. Apart from its academic and other enrichment content, it enables American parents, in a country where the school day generally runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., to work a full day.

Moms and/or dads who have to work from 8 to 4 or 9 to 5 can rest assured, under the 21st CCLC, that their children are well-cared for during those extra hours in a structured, supervised setting where they are provided with enrichment and educational activities, snacks, and free transportation home. Our local 21st CCLC program is called Project Connection, and it operates at both Muddy Brook Elementary and Monument Valley Middle Schools. With its supervised activities, sliding scale fee, emphasis on boosting academic achievement and social emotional skills, Project Connection has been one step toward leveling the playing field for disadvantaged students in South Berkshire County.

After each Project Connection session, students and families gather for a community dinner and student showcase.

After each Project Connection session, students and families gather for a community dinner and student showcase.

The actual wording of the cut is as follows. The 2018 budget:

“Eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before and after-school programs as well as summer programs, resulting in savings of $1.2 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The programs [sic] lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”

The president promised, in his recent address to Congress, that “the forgotten people will be forgotten no longer” and “to work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable.” This cut pulls affordable lifeline away from 1.6 million American families, many of whom are the ones struggling hardest to make a living.

Over the past seven years Project Connection has partnered with and supported the work of the following nonprofit organizations and human service agencies, among others: Berkshire South Regional Community Center, Flying Cloud Institute, Railroad Street Youth Project, Flying Deer Nature Center, IS 183 Art School, Multicultural BRIDGE, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Berkshire Theatre Group, Berkshire Museum, The Berkshire Co-op, The Nutrition Center, and Greenagers. [I helped to write the original federal grant with BHRSD staff and administration in 2010.]

As the poverty rate in our region continues to climb — in 2006, 22 percent of children in BHRSD were eligible for free or reduced lunches, per federal poverty guidelines; this year the rate is 33 percent — Project Connection has met a pressing, unmet need in the community. The grant was originally written to serve 120 students total. When enrollment opened, 190 signed up at Muddy Brook Elementary School, 65 percent of them high needs, and 40 signed up at Monument Valley Middle School, 69 percent of them high needs. The program was so popular, in fact, that Project Connection applied for and received additional funding from the Berkshire United Way to allow for the unforeseen expansion. The United Way continues to support Project Connection, thanks to its evidence of positive outcomes.

Tom Kelly, Program Director for Project Connection, says that every program is designed to improve verbal and written communication, challenging students to be inquisitive. “If you look at achievement gaps in math and reading, and the students that this program serves, the gaps are narrowing.”

A Project Connection student making a volcano while studying Guatemalan culture.

A Project Connection student making a volcano while studying Guatemalan culture.

Project Connection has perhaps made its greatest impact, in terms of academic and workforce benefits, in the summer. “Summer slide” is the term for the learning loss that disadvantaged children suffer, compared to their wealthier counterparts, during the long summer break. For parents who cannot afford thousands of dollars for camps, one-on-one tutoring, music, art, drama classes or any other enrichment that wealthier families take for granted as an integral part of their children’s lives —Project Connection’s full-day summer camp sessions have been invaluable.

On top of this, our students have a summer story to tell now, when teachers ask them to write the classic “What I did this summer” essay. When their classmates share, ‘I went to the Grand Canyon” and “I hiked in Maine,” they can proudly say, “ I went to Hancock Shaker Village. I learned how to build a fire. I built a chicken coop for a family who now has fresh eggs every day.’ This promotes a powerful sense of ‘I belong,’ especially at the middle school level.”

Muddy Brook principal Mary Berle says of Project Connection, “Our data show that many of our students participating have grown as much in a summer as they do in a year. It’s extraordinary, very powerful.

Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School Principal Mary Berle. Photo: David Scribner

Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School Principal Mary Berle. Photo: David Scribner

“Our students are engaged and thriving during the school day because of the inspiration they are feeling and the connections they are making. We have students doing woodworking in Project Connection, they do culinary arts, learn how to measure, are motivated to read recipes, they’re singing and dancing and exposed to literature and music. They look forward to it all day long. It is making their school day work more relevant. It’s a powerful force in our school and community.”

BHRSD Superintendent Peter Dillon called Project Connection “really impactful.” And went on, “It sets kids up for success through creative and engaging learning opportunities. Our staff experiment and refine how they teach in the regular day. Community partnerships support all the learning. Having this level of support outside our regular budget gives us flexibility.”

In a statement published March 16th, Jodi Grant, Executive Director of the national advocacy organization the Afterschool Alliance, wrote:

“This proposal would devastate working families. It is painfully short-sighted and makes a mockery of the President’s promise to make our country safer and to support inner cities and rural communities alike…..Afterschool programs make it possible for many parents to work; losing their afterschool programs would jeopardize their ability to hold onto their jobs.”

A Project Connection class visiting the Berkshire Museum to explore robotics.

A Project Connection class visiting the Berkshire Museum to explore robotics.

Just two weeks ago, on March 1st, a national study of afterschool program focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, released its findings. Kids in the study did a five-week STEM curriculum in an afterschool program. Seventy-seven percent of the students participating reported a positive change in interest in science, 71 percent reported an increase in their own sense of being a “science person,” more than 81 percent reported increased positive gain in science career knowledge (meaning they learned there are more STEM related jobs than astronaut), and over 70 percent reported an increase in critical thinking and perseverance.

Project Connection students with band instruments made from recycled materials.

Project Connection students with band instruments made from recycled materials.

Ardith Wieworka, CEO of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, says of the likelihood of this proposed elimination passing through Congress, “In a normal world, we’d say this is dead on arrival….I will say, there is very strong support for 21st CCLC programs from major advocacy groups, kids’ groups. Our congressional delegation supports the program, but it still matters for people to contact them. Everybody in there has a couple of Republican friends, and if they get enough feedback from constituents, their priorities are going to be based on what they hear. If we put out an alert for everyone to call their reps and senators, people will do it, and it will matter.”

James Driscoll is a 2nd grader at Muddy Brook Elementary School, and has been participating in Project Connection since he was in kindergarten. His mother, Livia Driscoll, says of the program, “He loves it. He was so upset when it was the last day of the session! As a working parent it’s so good to know that we have time until 5 to do what we have to do. But it’s not just about that; it’s about the help that he gets there. James has a speech delay, and they are helping him with reading and math. It helps us in that he’s busy, and active. I hope they can keep the program; we really need it!”

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25 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Leigh Davis says:

    Project Connection has been a lifeline for many, including myself. A tremendously impactful program worthy of our support.

  2. Sally Eagle says:

    Please let us all know how we can register our support for this program, especially who to contact and how to encourage the defeat of this incredibly short-sighted budget cut.

  3. Erik Bruun says:

    Nice digging Sheela!

    Of course the Republicans lacks (sic) the intelligence to understand that engaged children are more likely to become responsible adults and citizens. Oh wait, that’s the point. Propel the number of uneducated to keep the craven and illiterate in power.

  4. John says:

    Folks, these programs if so desired can continue to exist. You simply have to pay for it, and not place the expense to your neighbors.
    I think these are good programs, and frankly for years I paid for all my sons after school activities.

    1. Sally Eagle says:

      Are we now all in it just for ourselves and our own families? Do we no longer have a moral responsibility to help those less fortunate? I believe the way to keep our community thriving requires that those who are able do whatever they can to help those with less.

      1. Patrick Fennell says:

        By consolidating the school districts in Berkshire County would be a more effective way to pay for these programs if so desired. Right now we have a little of small districts and highly paid administrators. Cities in the eastern part of MA have larger school systems and just one administration. After decades of extorting money from anchor towns it is time for all towns to pay their shares.

        The federal government should stay out of education anyway.

        On a side note many studies have found headstart programs are a scam and just an excuse for free daycare.

      2. John says:

        We are obviously not all in it for ourselves. Frankly speaking, every year the cumulative tax burden goes up more with nonstop government spending, and i am happy to see the government setting some priorities. The government cannot be everything to everyone.
        National security is handled by the federal government, and the United States military is in sad shape in many areas. You should be aware that over recent years, North Korea, China and Russia have become increasingly hostile towards the United States. Should any of these counties get their way, life as we know it can change in very serious ways for you and your family. I’m sure you don’t want that and neither do I. Take a trip to Japan or South Korea and you will get a reality check as to how serious these adversaries really are.
        After school programs can be great but there also can be other alternatives which can be educational. If you live in a neighborhood, perhaps 1 family a week can host kids after school.
        Our federal government over the years has placed a family of 4 in debt at about 250,000. Never mind state and town debt piled on top of that.
        The government must set priorities.

    2. Lauren Clark says:

      “Simply” have to pay for it, John? You are “simply” missing the point. Not everyone can afford to “simply” pay for all or any of these programs. Are you suggesting as is our (not my) president, that all these children in YOUR community stay in the slow lane? They will be the inheritors of our community and we want them to be educated and prepared for the task.

      1. Patrick Fennell says:

        Right now some TOWNS are freeloading by abusing Choice and Tuition options. By making ALL towns pay their equal share, ‘per pupil’ cost these problems would be taken care of locally. The feds have no business interfering with education. Four districts in Berkshire County would solve about 90% of school spending and cut down on abuse. Again anchor towns like Sheffield and Great Barrington have been hammered enough, let towns like Richmond, Otis and others chip in their shares too. Of course Smitty and Hinds will not get involved because they are more worried about getting votes than education, thus their hands continue to stay off of hiot issues like school choice or tuition cost. At some point educators need to realize it is about educating the children and not their unions or benefits. GB’s taxes have gone up significantly over the last two decades and locals are moving out and elderly are struggling to stay in their homes.

    3. Sharon K says:

      What better way to help our children and keep them off the streets,,I rather have my tax dollars helping children than Trump spending it on his family,,,his wife and son cost us millions of dollars a month so she can stay in NY…. and so far Trumps mini vacations have cost us an arm and a leg!

      1. John says:

        Presidential security is very expensive yes, but required.
        You should recall President Obama with his expansive vacations, and utilizing Air Force 1 when campaigning for Clinton ….

    4. Shawn G. says:

      Taxes aren’t too bad; just did mine. Middle class family in 25% bracket*, after deductions and credits, 9% federal effective tax. Fine by me.
      * Of course we have graduated tax system, so brackets can be misleading.

    5. T says:

      A little insensitive on your part, and I believe it was a Grant so your neighbors perhaps did not pay for it as you assumed

  5. Pamela Hardcastle says:

    Very good sleuthing!! “Tucked away on page 17”. Thank you for pointing this out.
    I have the same request as Sally, how to and who to contact in support of these programs. And in opposition to cutting these useful and inspired programs out of the budget.

  6. Lauren Clark says:

    And by the way, thank you Sheela for this well researched and well written article. I hope you have also sent it to every representative you can think of!

  7. Pamela johnson says:

    Excellent article. Beware also of the removal of hundreds of thousands of $$$ in federal entitlement grants per school if house bill 610 passes as it proposes repeal of the 1965 education act that mandates equal opportunity in education. It is a comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs.

    The bill also abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch. For our most vulnerable, this may be the ONLY nutritious food they have in a day.

  8. Sandra Keefner says:

    My kids have been doing Projection Connection since they were fourth graders one is now a freshman in high school and my other two are 8th graders. Because of Project Connection they have learned how to grow things, build things like a chicken coup and a rabbit cage to give back to their community. It would be a shame to do away with this program.

  9. Pete says:

    The people running these programs in our schools are not from the federal government, they are from our community. If we want to look for waste, check the Pentagon/Dept. of Defense where more of our money is wasted than in any other part of our government. Likewise, there are more crimes of corruption committed here than anywhere else. See attached link. The money for these after school programs is chump change compared to defense. We need a strong defense, but our tax dollars should be spent prudently, not wasted on defense systems and weapons that the military don’t want or need.

  10. Elie Katzman says:

    I already sent my comments regarding this matter and other proposed budget cuts to Congressman Neal. He is the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee. I hope it will help, if many others do the same.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      Tell Richie you work for GE then he’ll listen to you.

  11. Stacey B. says:

    I love how this article assumes that people who provide opportunities for their children, like music lessons, are of course “wealthier” and “take” these things “for granted”. I think not on both counts. Firstly define “wealthier”! Secondly, speaking for myself, many sacrifices are made to enrich my children’s lives. No one covers the costs but us, how dare anyone think we take anything for granted.
    Also, are people aware that close to half of the population contribute ZERO federal tax money to cover all of these programs that people are insisting remain at tax payer expense? It’s the “wealthier” that foot the entire bill. Perhaps if SO much money wasn’t forced from the “wealthier” hard working people and EVERYONE paid at least some fair share of the costs for these programs then there would be less blame, and less finger pointing. Wouldn’t everyone benefit more if everyone contributed to the solution?

    1. Shawn G. says:

      Stacey- Suppose a single mom with 2 children works full time at the federal minimum wage rate and makes roughly 15,000 per year. You’re willing to take some of her very limited funds as taxes? I am perfectly happy letting her keep all her money. (I do pay taxes.) Basically you’re arguing that poor people should pay taxes. (?)

      1. Stacey B. says:

        I’m suggesting that all people pay some tax yes, even if it’s just a very small amount. I feel everyone should contribute. While that may seem unfair to you the system as it is currently discourages working more or working harder because the more you earn the more the government takes. Therefore many are better off doing less….that hardly seems fair or motivational.

  12. Steve Farina says:

    Hmmm…the Federal Government (we the people) are $19 Trillion in debt. Nobody wants their funding cut, but most everyone agrees the deficit spending needs to end.
    According to this article, Project Connection receives support from United Way. It would seem that taking this off the federal budget and keeping the control and continuation of the program in local hands would be a win-win.

  13. T says:

    Maybe if the President ‘s Spouse lived at the White House( instead of spending all that money to protect her in Trump towers), and he took less vacations that we pay for,the Grants for children and Elderly would have the money we so need to help our children and Elderly.
    It is amazing that one so wealthy needs more to be wealthier,then degradates the poorer people who struggle to work to make ends meet,where is the empathy and compassion,It is sad that this Country is going the way it is,But People extend that hand and help one another,you will feel so much better for it,Love and Peace is still free,if you give it freely

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