PORTLAND — A Portland nonprofit said Wednesday it received a $2.4 million grant to provide after-school and summer academic programs to elementary school students in Portland and Biddeford.

LearningWorks, which runs education programs for at-risk students, immigrants and low-income families, will use the funding to expand the program, currently offered in two Portland schools, to two more elementary schools in Portland and introduce it in two Biddeford schools.

The five-year grant will provide funds for 1,400 children, LearningWorks Executive Director Ethan Strimling said at a press conference Wednesday.

“What we know is when kids start falling behind early they don’t catch up,” Strimling said. “This helps second graders catch up with their peers.”

LearningWorks had actually been awarded a slightly lesser amount through the same grant process last year, but a bureaucratic error by the state Department of Education forced it to forfeit the money.

Strimling said state Education Commissioner Steve Bowen and his staff worked closely with LearningWorks to reapply and get slightly more that the initial award of $2.2 million.

“We did lose some kids, but in the end there is more money,” Strimling said, thanking the state officials for their help.

He noted that LearningWorks’ after-school and summer program has a proven track record. Last year, 94 percent of students in the programs made a year or more of growth on their standardized test scores in math, and 91 percent improved their scores in reading, Strimling said.

LearningWorks already operates after-school programs for East End and Reiche schools. With the grant, it will offer similar programs at Presumpscot and Ocean Avenue schools in Portland and in Biddeford Primary and Intermediate schools.

Portland Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said it is critical for third graders to be reading at grade level. LearningWorks’ program is needed to achieve that goal, as the district faces “diminished resources,” he said.

“Learning doesn’t end when the school day ends,” Caulk said.

The Biddeford schools superintendent, Jeremy Ray, agreed.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students,” Ray said. “These are the kinds of programs that keep kids connected to their schools.”

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:
ngallagher@pressherald.com