Seeing a need to help local school children more than ever before, the Town Council gives the unofficial okay to use $300,000 plus in federal ARPA money to assist with after-school programs.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Matt Sheley at (401) 842-6543 or firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPPING UP WITH SUPPORT
FOR OUR CHILDREN
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JANUARY 3, 2022) – A little more than two months ago, the Town Council heard more could be done to help local youth.
On Monday night during a meeting in Town Hall, the Town Council informally agreed to set aside more than $300,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to support three after school programs to assist Middletown students.
The money will pay for the School Department’s “Beyond The Bell” program as well as partnerships with the East Bay Community Action and Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County, which have drawn rave reviews (See https://www.middletownri.com/civicalerts.aspx?aid=646).
It is the first ARPA funding committed by the Town of the close to $5 million due to the community. As part of its discussion, council members agreed the funds will be handled through the Town’s financial offices as a grant to the schools. The item is expected to be formally voted on at the council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
“We’ve talked a lot about collaborating on the needs of our students and student achievement,” Assistant Superintendent Michelle Fonseca said. “We’re at a crucial moment where we just need to direct our services on helping kids socially, emotionally and academically. The need is great. Our test scores show it. Our day to day functioning of students shows it. Our engagement shows it. We have students who are struggling, not just from COVID-19, the distance learning, it’s lack of instructional time, decrease in instructional time, but also gaps that we had before.”
At a meeting in early November, the council received a report from consultant Maryclaire Knight that the community provided a robust list of services to area youth. But she said that given issues with homelessness, hunger and transportation, the Town could do more for those in need.
The report came on the heels of an ongoing push from Councilman Dennis Turano to create a new “Middletown Outreach Department” to address similar concerns. Following a speech by Fonseca, Turano said he was “really excited” about what he was hearing because the students — and families — who need help were getting it.
“We all have the same end goal that our kids are ready to fly when they come out of school and they’re not frustrated,” Turano said.
Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas — a lifelong educator — said she was completely behind the proposal, saying it was clear from what Fonseca was demonstrating there was a need today. And the teachers are the ones who understand those educational needs more than anyone, she said.
“The teachers are the only ones who know what’s really going on,” VonVillas said. “What we’ve got to do is put the medicine in the hands of the teachers.”
Since the conversation started, Town officials have been meeting and working on ways to take help youngsters in need without duplicating existing services. As part of that effort, Town officials have met with consultants the ILO Group, who were hired by the state to assist with a similar campaign across Rhode Island.
In a Dec. 28, 2021 memo to the council, Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown wrote the three “Beyond The Bell” programs were an excellent match with the council’s goals.
“These programs are consistent with recommendations from the Rhode Island LEAP Task Force, the recommendations prepared by the Town’s consultant, Maryclaire Knight, and discussions with the ILO Group in which they have identified that out of school programs are most successful when there is a partnership between the municipality and school department,” Brown wrote.
At the meeting, Brown expanded his findings, saying that more than 400 students were involved in “Beyond The Bell” now, helping provide not only after-school educational assistance but social, emotional and personal development.
Like Fonseca, Brown said without the support of the 60 plus teachers involved in the effort, the program wouldn’t be nearly as successful. Down the line, Fonseca said she’d like to see the “Beyond The Bell” program get bigger. By the end of the next month, she said another 100 students were expected in the program.
“We want to make it even bigger than this,” Fonseca said. “This is only a start.”