Grants to fund after-school program

A grant for a middle school after-school program in the Norwood-Norfolk Central School District is set to expire this year, but district officials have included funding in their budget to ensure it continues. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

NORFOLK — A grant for a middle school after-school program in the Norwood-Norfolk Central School District is set to expire this year, but district officials have included funding in their budget to ensure it continues.

Superintendent James Cruikshank said the program has received two grants, each for five years. The funding is also shared with the St. Lawrence and Lisbon school districts, who work with Norwood-Norfolk to brainstorm programs for the students. Separate funding is provided to three other north country districts.

“This grant is sunsetting at the end of this school year, but we have applied for another five-year grant. I may be optimistic about this grant, but I’m also realistic in the sense that if we were successful, that would be 15 years of funding. That’s pretty unheard of. So realistically we are preparing for potentially not having that grant funding,” he told board of education members.

However, he said, “We do have some funding in the budget if we’re not successful on this grant.”

Program Leader Laura Gutenmann said the students have named the program the “Green and Gold Thunderbolts Extended Day Program.”

“The very first year we had a campaign that all the students determined that we are the Green and Gold Thunderbolts. The after-school program has been named that since then,” she said.

She said the extended day program is state funded for extending the school day and to promote school violence prevention programs.

“We have gotten the grant twice, which is pretty awesome. I know that at the end of the first sunset, we did have it in the budget. The board was super supportive then, and I’m really glad that you’re super supportive now of continuing the program if for some reason we are not awarded the grant again,” Ms. Gutenmann said.

The district partners with Clarkson University, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Seaway Prevention Council to provide programming for the students.

“Our goal of the grant is to provide academic enrichment, and that can be in the form of homework help. But it can also be in the form of just activities that promote math, science, English language arts, the arts and technology, and we do a lot of youth development, trying to build positive relationships with students,” she said.

The program was active before the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, we provided support on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until 2:15 for (grade) five through eight students. Then our fourth-graders joined us at 3:15 until 4:15. Part of the grant was to provide transportation for our students to and from the after-school program and for any activities they participated in, which really helped students who could not get transportation otherwise,” Ms. Gutenmann said.

There was also a summer component that included four weeks of in-house programs, as well as programs from partners.

“That, for us, was four days a week so we could have a little longer time with them and do some things like Books on the Beach and going to the Nature Center and doing some field trips, which was super beneficial to them instead of a five-day-a-week program. We did a lot of field trip opportunities for them. Every year we took a trip somewhere fun and the kids always enjoyed that,” she said.

One trip was to Syracuse to visit a science center. Another was a river boat trip.

“We’ve done a lot of local field trips to explore things that we do around here so that we can give them good ideas of things to do, and we did a lot of working with our partners,” Ms. Gutenmann said.

Clarkson University offered programs with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The activities included making slime during Halloween, as well as building bridges and testing them with other school districts.

Cornell Cooperative Extension provided nutrition programming, and helped create a greenhouse at the school. The Seaway Prevention Council provided two prevention programs — Too Good for Drugs and Too Good for Violence.

Once the pandemic hit, the activities continued. They created the Digital Thunderbolts, which was streamed live. They shared communications and digital resources through Google Classroom, and they shared resources from their partners.

“We did cooking online, we did crafts online, we sent home all kinds of activity packets to every single student in the program, and we’re still doing that. We’re doing that three days a week. We’re doing our online programming with our fourth- through eighth-graders and, one day a week, we provide tutoring from 4 to 6:30 for parents who want to bring their kids. We don’t just help our students. Part of the grant is to reach out to our parents and our community,” Ms. Gutenmann said.

She said about 100 students participated during the pandemic last year, and they have about 85 so far this year and are working to build that up.

“Our target number is 75. We’ve always been good about exceeding that number,” she said.

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