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Bemidji Community Education: After-school, summer programs get grant

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The Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education approved a $719,769 grant to be used to fund Community Education after-school and summer programming.

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Written by Youth Services coordinator John Buckanaga and assistant coordinator John McRae, the grant will allow the programs to increase the number of participants and expand the program to include grades 2-12.

The after-school and summer programs enroll at-risk students, who are referred by their teachers based on their MCA-II test scores in math and reading.

Programs give students academic help, tutoring, homework help and academic enrichment, and provide activities such as music, arts, sports and cultural activities.

The grant will provide funding through July 31, 2012, giving Community Education $239,923 per year for three years, with the possibility of extending two more years, says Buckanaga.

"If we get our reports in on time and produce successful results, it is likely we'll have funding for five years," he said.

Community Education receives its current funding for after-school and summer programs from a $150,000 grant received Oct. 15, 2007. With the grant's expiration date nearing an end Aug. 31, Buckanaga and McRae applied for the 21st Century grant to continue funding.

At Monday's School Board meeting, Buckanaga reported 94 percent of the 170 students stayed with the six-week summer program.

"The state average retention rate of summer program kids is 50 percent. We shocked them with an average of 94 percent," said Buckanaga.

According to Buckanaga, the success of Community Education's after-school and summer programs stems from collaborating with targeted services through Bemidji Alternative Schools and Indian Education, similar programs that service the same students.

"Targeted services helps fund the programs for kids that maybe are behind in studies or have personal problems interfering in school," said Kathy Palm, Bemidji Area Schools director of curriculum and administrative services.

The state provides Title 1 money for transportation and targeted services provides funding for the program teachers. The 21st Century grant provides transportation costs, snacks and paraprofessionals. Indian Education provides funding for staff, as well as some transportation, says Palm.

"We used to each have our own programs, but separately we were struggling," said Palm. "There was not enough money, so we pooled our resources and with this new grant we can offer a great program."

Providing transportation has also helped kids stay with the program.

"With writing grants, the biggest challenge is thinking outside the box," said Buckanaga. "I'm fortunate that John (McRae) is my assistant. He does the writing and I do a lot of the dreaming."

The Minnesota State Community Education Conference board has asked Buckanaga and McRae to present a program on building an effective after-school program through collaboration.

"Many schools panic because they don't know where to start after they receive a grant," said Buckanaga. "I was in the same boat at one time. One of my goals is to pass on what we've done here in Bemidji and help other communities succeed in attaining grants."

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