After-school tutoring program loses funding

Joshua Kellogg
Students eat breakfast in the cafeteria Sept. 3 at Lydia Rippey Elementary School in Aztec. An after-school program that serves students at the school and several other in the county has lost its funding, jeopardizing its future.

FARMINGTON — A loss of funding for a San Juan County after-school tutoring program that serves 250 children could lead to the program's demise unless additional funding is found.

The program run by the local nonprofit organization the San Juan County Partnership operates at Lydia Rippey, McCoy and Park Avenue elementary schools in the Aztec Municipal School District, and Blanco Elementary School in the Bloomfield School District.

The San Juan County Partnership has received program funding for the previous 16 years and was awarded approximately $250,000 for the 2015-2016 school year, Executive Director Pamela Drake said. The funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Education through a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant that is distributed by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The organization was informed was by the state it would not receive funding for the 2017-2020 funding cycle at the end of May. The funding is awarded on a four-year cycle.

“We were devastated and totally surprised by not being funded because our program has had excellent results,” Drake said.

In the free program, tutors provide homework help and intervention, and organize academic-focused activities after the school day ends until about 5:30 or 6 p.m.

Second-graders Alex Espinoza, 7, left, and Tyer Shaw, 7, swing on the playground Sept. 3 before school begins at Lydia Rippey Elementary School in Aztec.

Drake said students in the program perform better academically, like attending school and have better attendance than students not in the program.

“Because of this (program) not being funded, there are 250 children and all those families who don’t have a place for their children to go after school,” Drake said.

Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said he was disheartened to hear that the funding was cut for the program, which served about 180 students at the three elementary schools in his district.

“That’s the most valuable piece of what we are doing. We are extending the school day for a lot of these kids,” Carpenter said.

Bloomfield Superintendent Kim Mizell said the program was a great opportunity for students to have time after school to work on homework, reading and intervention work. The Blanco program also provided transportation home for about 70 students in the after-school program.

Drake said the state has received less federal funding than in previous years for the grant.

Students line up to go inside Sept. 3 before school begins at Lydia Rippey Elementary School in Aztec.

When asked about a possible decline in funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, Robert McEntyre, state education department spokesman, said in a statement that the department is investing more money in education than ever before, with more money going directly into classrooms.

"(The state education department) awards this grant based on the quality of applications and guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Education," McEntyre said in a statement. "(The state education department) has encouraged previous grant recipients to seek additional funding opportunities to sustain their programs."

Finding new funding sources has been difficult, Drake said. She has found a few small grants worth about $1,000 to $2,000 but nothing on the scale of the $250,000 yearly grant.

About 30 people are employed by the program with most of the employees working part time, Drake said. The program hired teachers at the schools to work as on-site coordinators for the program. The teachers then hired tutors, including high school students, on a contract basis to work with the elementary children.

The San Juan County Partnership, and the Aztec and Bloomfield school districts are trying to find ways to keep the program alive, although it might not be in the same form.

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves to provide an after-school program that extends the learning,” Carpenter said. “It might not be at the same level.”

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.