If they’re approved for federal grants, two more Tuolumne County schools could have after-school programs like those at Columbia and Sonora elementary schools.
Curtis Creek and Soulsbyville elementary schools are both applying for funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which pays for free afternoon activities and academic support at high-poverty schools.
Columbia Elementary, Sonora Elementary, Summerville Elementary, Jamestown Elementary and Calaveras Unified School District have all participated in the program. Their grants last three academic years, beginning with 2009-10.
Each school is re-applying for grant funding through the Stanislaus County Office of Education, which administers the grants for the region that includes Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. Judy Leitz, a spokeswoman for the office, said news might come about the status of the grants in April.
Many local parents have come to depend on the 21st Century program for after-school childcare, according to Cindy Jensen, the supervisor for Sonora Elementary’s program. Sonora Elementary also has a fee-based after-school club, but Jensen has said some parents can’t afford it.
To qualify for funding, schools must enroll a high percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Soulsbyville School District has applied for the after-school grants twice before, said Superintendent Jeff Winfield. The first time, it didn’t have enough students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. It did last year, but no new grants were given for schools in the region.
“This year we’re really hopeful,” Winfield said. “It would be great for Soulsbyville. … In a small rural school like ours, if kids don’t have opportunities to go somewhere else... the school needs to provide all of those opportunities for kids.”
But Soulsbyville’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program would supply more than just a place for students to “hang out” after school, Winfield added. It even goes beyond simple “homework help” and gives students targeted academic instruction in areas where they struggle.
That would help Soulsbyville boost standardized test scores, which it is under “tight constraints” to do, Winfield said.
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is “a good program, and not only is it well-thought-out, but it has money behind it,” Winfield said.
As of Thanksgiving break, about 50 percent of Soulsbyville Elementary students qualified for free and reduced-price school meals, according to Winfield.
About 71 percent of Jamestown Elementary School students qualified for free and reduced-price school meals as of September, one of the highest proportions in Tuolumne County.
Jamestown Elementary now serves about 100 students in its two after-school programs, according to Jamestown and Curtis Creek Elementary Superintendent Diane Dotson. One of Jamestown’s after-school programs is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative.
Participating Jamestown students have worked on a garden with master gardeners, started a jewelry business with local artist Dianne Stearns, and learned hip-hop dancing. Older students are learning how to shoot video footage and put together short films.
Curtis Creek has a need for similar after-school opportunities, Dotson said. It is applying to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program for the first time this year.
If they are approved, Columbia Elementary would get $150,000 a year for the next three years for its 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. So would Sonora Elementary, Soulsbyville Elementary and Curtis Creek Elementary.
Jamestown Elementary would get $120,150 a year, and Summerville Elementary would get $43,200.
Columbia Elementary recently signed off on this year’s grant amount of about $163,000. Its after-school program is in demand, with staff noting at a board meeting this fall that there was a long waiting list for admission.
Nevertheless, Columbia Elementary’s after-school program was the center of a scandal over the past year.
In 2009, Columbia Superintendent John Pendley helped hire his unqualified son as an aide for the program.
Brennan Pendley proceeded to send explicit text messages, and have sex with, a 14-year-old girl in the program.
Leitz, the Stanislaus County Office of Education spokeswoman, said her office does not consider district-level personnel issues such as those that occurred at Columbia when submitting grants for 21st Century funding.