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VUHS summer school faces critical funding issues

VERGENNES — While eight Vergennes Union High School students and their teacher floated down Otter Creek this week on the rafts they built in their summer school class, the larger program that helped launch them could face an uncertain future.
The VUHS summer school program called SAIL (Summer Adventures in Learning) and the VUHS afterschool program known as KEYS (Keep Energizing Youth in our School) have relied on a $487,000 grant awarded in 2009. That 21st Century Learning Centers Grant (21C) grant from the federal Department of Education will run out after the coming academic year.
The 21C grant funded virtually all of the KEYS afterschool effort and much of the SAIL summer program for the first three years, according to Jill Strube, who directs KEYS and co-directs SAIL with Beth Adreon. In the past two years, the funding percentage dropped, as per the original loan agreement, with a larger, unexpected decline this year due to the U.S. Congress’s failure to avoid sequestration.
Strube said VUHS is welcome to re-apply for another five-year C21 grant, with the support capped at half the original amount, a figure that would come to $58,000 a year.
But there are no guarantees.
“The decision will be made later this summer or early this fall whether we’re going to re-apply, and if you re-apply for a second five years of funding, you’re funded at 50 percent … if we’re accepted,” Strube said last week. “This past year there were quite a few sites statewide that applied for their second five years and were turned down.”
Back in 2009, when VUHS was awarded the C21 grant, Strube said studies regularly show students who participate in afterschool programs tend to improve their academic achievement and attendance rates. KEYS attendance during the VUHS academic year has grown to around 150.
Meanwhile, SAIL summer attendance has grown steadily, from 40 in the first year to about 100 this year, a number that includes for the first time nine Mount Abraham students.
“Each year it’s grown,” Strube said.
Many courses, like the one that ended up with students floating on Otter Creek, are hands-on: Those include Power Mechanics, Super Science, Basketball Math, Farm and Garden, Food Sustainability, Math Art and K-9 Packages.
Strube said those courses have proven popular.
“A lot of the kids want to come because it’s something fun to do. They’re with their friends. The programs are very exciting and hands-on,” she said.
Others are geared towards remediation, such as Language Arts Skills and Math Skills.
“The middle school teams do make recommendations to parents … that maybe their child could use some additional support in the summer. And some parents listen to those recommendations,” Strube said.
Others help prepare students to take SAT tests, or learn how to deal with the Performance Based Graduation Requirements (PBGRs) that younger students will increasingly face as they move toward leaving VUHS.
As Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials look to the future, the Mount Abe component could help preserve the summer program.
Adreon said more than nine students would have signed up if arrangements had been made sooner: Mount Abe administrators did not approach VUHS until May, when many of the attractive summer courses were full. More participation in the future would mean more financial support, she said.
“If we can keep the collaboration with Mount Abe going … that can spread that cost out,” Adreon said.
But Strube said the 21C grant will remain crucial unless ANwSU chooses to up its funding for the programs.
“They would have to add pretty serious money,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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