PORTLAND — The school district is teaming up with local nonprofit groups to increase academic support and cultural enrichment opportunities for about 110 economically disadvantaged and at-risk youth.

Over the next five years, LearningWorks, formerly Portland West, will administer a five-year, nearly $1 million grant received from the Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Fund. 

The money will fund 2.5 hours of after-school educational and cultural opportunities five days a week for students who are identified via state and local assessments as low-performing, failing or at risk of failing.

LearningWorks will administer $220,000 in each of the first three years of the grant and $297,000 over the final two years.

LearningWorks Executive Director Ethan Strimling said in a press release the partnership with the city schools is a very exciting opportunity for the nonprofit organization.

“This is the first time in our history that we have been funded to serve elementary school kids outside of the West End and Parkside,” Strimling said.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Whynot-Vickers said Portland schools have worked with the nonprofit group in the past, but having LearningWorks administer the grant is a new and welcome change. Previously, teachers were the ones who applied for and administered the grants.

The grants can only be used at East End and Reiche elementary schools, because those schools have high populations of disadvantaged and immigrant students, many of whom enter the school system from backgrounds that make it difficult to meet state testing standards. 

“The standard doesn’t change, but background (the students) have is one variable,” Whynot-Vickers said. “One of the things we can offer them is extended learning time, so that they can pick up some things they may not have had early in life.”

Whynot-Vickers said Reiche students will work directly with teachers and the staff at LearningWorks, located in the West End near the school. Students will receive tutoring and homework help for the first hour or so. The second half of the day will be devoted to cultural enrichment through programs like art and science clubs, computer skills classes and healthy eating.

Whynot-Vickers said the Reiche program will also include a summer preschool program that will expose students to the school before they enter kindergarten.   

At East End Community School, A Company of Girls, a nonprofit seeking to empower girls through art, will begin offering programs to boys.  

East End Principal Carol Dayn said Portland elementary schools already provide literacy intervention programs during the school day. However, the grant will allow educators to devote more time to academically at-risk students. 

“Enrichment will help to develop more background knowledge that will increase comprehension and help children make connections in their learning,” Dayn said. “The grant allows us to add to that time significantly.”

Whynot-Vickers said delegating the administrative responsibilities to LearningWorks will allow teachers, who previously administered grants, to concentrate more of their time and energy on their regular classroom duties and educational programs.

In addition to helping students at crucial point in their lives, Whynot-Vickers said the personal connections students make with LearningWorks staff, based at 181 Brackett St., will be preserved throughout the student’s middle and high school career. 

“LearningWorks is a place in the community where (kids) can go in their neighborhood,” she said. “Kids can get used to this as a support program.” 

Randy Billings can be reahed at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]
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