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After-school programs get funds

Having lost a $641,000 state grant to fund after-school academic intervention programs and other activities for middle school students, the Niagara Falls School Board has allocated $200,000 from its general fund to make sure pupils get the added help.

About $100,000 will go to Gaskill Preparatory School and another $100,000 to LaSalle Preparatory School so seventh- and eighth-graders may stay after school, be tutored for an hour in core subjects and participate in sports, arts and crafts -- even field trips.

The 21st Century Learning Center Grant program also provides each student with a free snack and bus ride home in the early evening.

"We wanted to continue to finance it because the 21st century grant was just wonderful for our three middle schools," Board President Robert Kazeangin Jr. said last week. He said the program was part of an overall strategy to improve student achievement.

Program Director Susan Ross said that even though it is less money, the board allocation will be enough to pay for a good program. That's true in part, she said, because of the district's consolidation plan.

That plan closed Niagara Middle School, moved the sixth grade back to the elementary level, and set up prep schools at Gaskill and LaSalle for seventh- and eighth-graders. That means the program can focus on one less school and about 33 percent fewer students than it did a year ago, Ross said.

More than 500 students participated in the program last year, she said.

The state grant expired June 30.

Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer then took the 21st century after-school money and allocated it to a different after-school program, "so we'll miss a year of funding because they changed the way they distribute the money," Ross said.

She said the district is applying for a new four-year grant to fund the program, starting in 2008-09.

"We should hear if we've got it in approximately January," Ross said. "The board money will keep us going until then. Without it, we wouldn't have an after-school program at Gaskill and LaSalle."

Because of the funding gap, many districts across the state have had to suspend their programs for a year, she said.

Ross said even good students who do not need help can participate in the program, as long as they spend the first hour on some academic endeavor, such as reading.


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