MONTPELIER >> Over 40 youth ambassadors and 40 expanded learning opportunities educators and program directors visited the statehouse on Thursday, February 18, to highlight the importance of after-school and summer learning. The youth ambassadors marched to the statehouse wearing superhero capes they had designed to show that after-school and summer learning can help to "zap the gap!" referring to the achievement gap between children of affluent families and those who cannot afford enrichment programs outside of school. The youth and adults visited with lawmakers to talk about their experiences in their programs.
A group of students from the Help Empower Youth (HEY!) after-school program based at Leland & Gray Middle and High School testified in the House Education Committee, highlighting the value of after-school programs for high school youth in career awareness opportunities. Freshman Jessop Burrow, from Jamaica, testified that the HEY! programs offered a supportive environment for his personal growth.
"I slowly came out of my shell and found a new confidence that I didn't know I had. I also realized I had found a new passion for informing and entertaining people on camera."
Senior Ashley Hescock from Wardsboro, who mentored elementary school children through HEY!, told the legislators "If I had not been offered this experience I may have never known that my dream was to be an elementary teacher."
"Being a math tutor has taught me patience, trust, and appreciation." said Freshman Kaylah Jacob, also from Wardsboro. Impressed by her public speaking and love of math, the committee asked if she might consider serving in the legislature.
"These programs are not babysitting," added Thara Fuller, who oversees the HEY! program as well as after-school and summer programs at six elementary schools in the Windham Central Supervisory Union. "We are supporting the academic and personal growth of young people."
Her testimony advocated for state funding that would close the gap left by federal grants to ensure rural communities of Vermont have equal access to resources for after-school and summer programs. "We may not even be able to access the existing federal money because of the requirement for a 50 percent match in local funds. In small, rural areas we do not have the big organizations to be financial sponsors. If we do not hit our fundraising target of $50,000, we will have to close in a year."
Vermont Afterschool, Inc. Executive Director Holly Morehouse asked the committee to support allocating state funding in the Expanded Learning Opportunities Special Fund. The ELOSF was created last year, but no funding was allocated. The purpose of the ELOSF is to expand access to programs that serve preK-12 children and youth outside the school day on a regular basis, including before and after school, school vacation weeks, and summer.
According to Morehouse, Vermont currently ranks 4th in the nation with regard to the quality of its expanded learning opportunities, but at the same time is dead last in terms of the percentage of low-income Vermont students participating in these programs. Morehouse emphasized that the ELOSF is an important step to ensuring that every child in Vermont has access to quality expanded learning programs. "This access will keep children healthy and safe, inspire learners, support working families, and help Vermont achieve the educational goals we have set."
After-school and summer learning programs help to Zap the Gap — the achievement gap, the opportunity gap, the geographic gap, and the homework gap - so Vermont students in grades K-12 are ready to learn and on track with their studies.
Many Vermonters are coming together to ask the legislature to Zap the Gap and appropriate $2.5 million in the ELOSF for FY2017. This amount would help to ensure that all high-need communities in Vermont get the support they need to make sure that children, youth, and families have access to quality afterschool and summer learning programs.
Vermont currently has no dedicated state funding to ensure that afterschool and summer learning programs are available and accessible to all.
More than 21,000 Vermont K-12 youth are enrolled in expanded learning opportunities, but 22,000-plus are waiting for an available program.
Holly Morehouse can be contacted at 802-598-4005 or email@example.com.