Townshend — Not only does it take a village to raise kids — it takes a campaign.
The Campaign for Kids is a brand new coalition established to raise funds for critical after-school and summer programs along the West River Valley. The lead organizations are West River Valley Thrives, promoting strong families and substance abuse prevention; Community Hope and Action, a Townshend group offering monthly community-building events; and Learning After School (L'AFTER), a network of after-school and summer programs hosted by seven schools in the Windham Central Supervisory Union.
The kickoff event for the Campaign is a silent auction at the Townshend Town Hall on Saturday, December 19, at 6 p.m. The event includes a free dinner and concert by the Bondville Boys bluegrass band.
About 700 kids come each year to L'AFTER programs for homework help, tutoring, and a host of hands-on projects from building shelters in the woods to basic carpentry to creating scale models of buildings with 3D printers. There are spelling bees and their mathematical counterparts – the Math Olympiads. There are poetry workshops and cooking projects and make-your-own piñata sessions.
"In our rural communities, these programs after school and in the summer provide essential opportunities for students to learn and apply what they've learned. They broaden the horizons of our young people by connecting them with adults willing to share their skills and interests," said WCSU Superintendent Steven John.
At the middle and high school level, many of the after-school programs focus on college and career readiness. Students at Leland and Gray Union Middle and High School learn life skills through experiences such as assisting teachers at the elementary school, tutoring their classmates, and working on projects related to their career interests.
At a recent reception celebrating the Leland and Gray after-school programs, school board members and members of the Vermont State Legislature (Becca Balint, Emily Long and Jeanette White), heard students speak about how their after-school experiences are helping to shape their goals for life after graduation. Freshman Kaylah Jacobs described how tutoring in math has helped her realize she would like to apply her mathematical skills in the business field.
Nastia Stevens, sophomore, recounted the long list of programs she has participated in, contrasting this abundance with the scarcity of opportunities in Russia, where she spent her early childhood – and even in her previous school in the U.S. where a lottery determined who could participate in after-school programs.
Senior Ashley Hescock spoke about spending three years as a student counselor assisting at the elementary schools: "Being a counselor taught me patience, persistence and appreciation."
Jessop Burrow, a freshman who has been practicing his digital recording and editing skills after school, mentioned the technical aspects he is learning, but focused more on the power of friendship and acceptance within the after-school workshops. "I look forward to seeing the younger students grow and find themselves like I have."
The L'AFTER programs have been growing for three years with support from a federal program called 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants and investments by local school districts. However, the federal investment requires that after four years, programs establish local funding sources for a minimum of 40 percent of the operating budget. And so, in order to sustain L'AFTER beyond the current year, regular fundraising events are necessary. The Campaign for Kids set a target to raise $50,000 by June 2016. Organizers expect over 100 people to attend the concert and silent auction on Saturday at the Townshend Town Hall.
"We have had tremendous support from local craftspeople and businesses who donated items for the silent auction. We have lift tickets from both Stratton and Mount Snow and a handmade solid cherry snowboard deck from Northern Grind. Virtually every small business along Route 30 has donated a gift certificate or special item such as a handblown glass ornament from Robert DuGrenier and a basket of stuffed critters from Mary Meyer," says Thara Fuller, L'AFTER Director.
For information on donating to the Campaign for Kids, contact Thara Fuller at the WCSU office.