BALTIMORE – The little yellow bells rang out praise Friday morning for after-school programs that keep children constructively occupied “beyond the bell.”
Students, educators and community leaders, in a tent to keep warm, rang the bells to promote the programs that always seem precariously funded.
“The programs keep our children off the street” and engage students in a range of topics from math and reading to health and nutrition, said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools.
The event, held in a tent near the National Aquarium in Baltimore, focused on 39 projects funded, at least in part, by the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. The grants support after-school activities in low-performing school districts.
“After-school programs provide so much for students that often have so little,” said Vanessa Diggs, who helps administer the federal awards at the state level.
Among those recognized were participants in the Gospel Music Summer Camp, a two-week day camp in Annapolis, which enrolled 29 students this year. Now in its second year, the camp culminates in a performance at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
“This is a program that helps (children) expand in so many ways,” said Lynn Grap, project coordinator at the Annapolis Communities Creating Educational Success for Students, an Anne Arundel County Public Schools group that organizes the summer camp.
Singing and dancing at Maryland Hall was her favorite part of the summer, said Treszura Harmon, 10, a fifth-grader at KIPP Harbor Academy in Edgewater.
“I feel it’s a positive influence. I was raised singing gospel music and I enjoy it,” said Damon Ross, 17, a camp counselor and gospel singer at Annapolis High School.
Educators at Friday’s gathering, part of a nationwide Lights on Afterschool effort to raise awareness about the importance of such initiatives, also highlighted the difficulty of keeping programs alive.
Not enough children have a safe place to go when school ends, said Erika Argersinger, policy director at the Afterschool Alliance, a non-profit organization that started the Lights on Afterschool campaign seven years ago.
Over 25 percent of Maryland’s kindergarten-through-12th-grade students lack supervision at the end of the school day because their parents work, according to a 2005 alliance survey.
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program will award Maryland $12,914,804 in 2007 — about the same as last time. Level funding means programs cannot be added or expanded.
In St. Mary’s County, for example, federal funding decreased this year, said Mark Smith, coordinator for special programs.
Fortunately, he said, programs received $125,000 from the County Commissioners.
“I think this is something the whole community needs to take responsibility for,” Smith said.
But Grap pointed out that it can be frustrating to secure funding, especially for long-term projects.
“It seems people really want to see returns for their money . . . right away.”
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