Crossett and Lee County Receive Grants to Expand After-School Programs

November 18, 2019

Crossett and Lee County, two ForwARd Communities, recently received grants to fund after-school programs in their communities. Crossett Elementary School received a $660,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Education and Lee County School District received a $630,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education as part of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. From art classes to coding camps, students, parents and community members in these districts will benefit from expanded services and increased parent engagement.

Thurman Green (TG), our policy and community engagement associate, sat down with the grant writers – Crossett Elementary School principal, Veronica Robinson (VR); Crossett Elementary School assistant principal, Janet Ricks (JR); Crossett Elementary School assistant librarian, Leslie Mansur (LM); and Lee Senior High School social studies teacher, Clifton Collier (CC) – to discuss how each grant will impact the districts’ after-school programs.

TG: Congratulations! We know how important after school programming can be for students – how do you view this grant as an opportunity to impact students in your district?

VR (Crossett): After school programming is important, and with this grant we’ll be able to provide opportunities for even more students. We plan on hiring teachers and staff to provide academic and enrichment sessions – activities that are not offered during the regular school day – for 105 students. This includes activities like pottery, painting, career readiness programming such as robotics and coding, show choir, and agricultural partnerships with our parent-teacher organization. We also plan to offer social and emotional programming where counselors focus on anti-bullying activities.

CC (Lee County): The 21st Century Grant opens opportunities for our children that have been sorely missing for years. Being a very poor community with a history of academic underachievement, too many of Lee County’s youth have not been exposed to productive and beneficial outlets, especially after school and during the summer months. Transportation will not be an obstacle because the grant covers the cost of transporting students to and from the program site. The greatest benefit I see is the academic reinforcement it offers. 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program staff will collaborate with district classroom teachers, filling in the gaps where some students may need more one-on-one instruction and/or tutoring.

TG: While parental engagement is a requirement of both of these grants – how do you hope parental engagement will increase as a result of this work? 

LM (Crossett): As part of the grant, we’re looking to plan more parent workshops and enrichment activities with students – opportunities such as Read-A-Loud and Parent Book Club.

But we’ve also listened to parents about how they want to be involved. Through surveys we distributed, parents have identified hands-on opportunities to build a sustainable partnership with the district. In particular, programs focused on financial literacy such as assistance with job applications, resume reviews and banking.

CC (Lee County): We’ll reach out to parents and invite them to visit our programs. Science fairs, literacy nights, plays, art shows, etc. will showcase our students’ achievements and will be shared with parents. We’ll also invite parents to volunteer and even help plan some activities.

TG: Tell us a little bit about the skills students will now be able to acquire from participating in youth development activities. 

LM (Crossett): Students will be engaged in programs related to music, art, coding, computer science and agriculture, which will prepare them for college and their future careers. Our cyber students, for example, will participate in computer programming and design classes, while other students will learn how to operate a green screen with assistance from a local news anchor. While we want students to enjoy themselves and have fun with activities, it is imperative our students learn real life skills in the process. It is our hope that we are preparing them to be productive citizens.

CC (Lee County): Youth will enjoy a wide array of safe, fun and productive activities. Every program day will begin with academic support offered by certified teachers in the district. Enrichment activities such as dance, drama, art, computer science, educational field trips, music and sports are all scheduled – as well as STEM projects. Speakers will be invited to give youth, parents and staff inspiration, instruction and information.

TG: How do you view this grant as a first step in bringing more after-school opportunities to your community?

VR (Crossett): With this grant, we are able to design a program that has longevity. We hope our school and the Crossett community will see the impact – and that the programming made possible by this grant will continue to be part of what we provide to our students.

CC (Lee County): This grant is a giant first step in bringing after-school and summer opportunities to Lee County youth and families. I envision local and state government, businesses, faith-based organizations and the community will become involved in the 21st Century Program and in discerning other needs in Lee County.