Back in 1974, the Washington County Youth Service Bureau/Boys & Girls Club saw a need in their community, and got to work. A staff of 12 opened much-needed teen centers and substance abuse counseling programs. They’ve been finding more ways to support youth and families in the community ever since.
As the years passed, the issues facing Washington County youth, especially those in Barre City, grew more complex. Economic, social and youth substance-abuse concerns intensified. Students were facing increasingly high odds of academic failure. The community realized it needed to step up its efforts. Barre City responded, creating the Cityscape afterschool program. In its first few years of operation, Cityscape competed and won a 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant targeted middle schoolers—an age group facing some of the biggest academic challenges, and often most vulnerable to falling off track.
The new grant spurred others to get involved and help out. Everybody, from the local fire and police departments, to hunger prevention campaigns, to a local Boys & Girls Club, to a local seniors’ home, came together for Barre City’s youth, broadly expanding the program’s offerings. Community foundations and the Carole White PEP Foundation provided the support needed to grow. A middle school student walking into Cityscape today can get not only academic help, also the kinds of enriching opportunities that make learning fun. Arts and crafts, drama and wellness activities engage and inspire kids in the program. It’s no surprise, then, that two-thirds of students now participate in the program.
P.J. LaPerle, Cityscape’s coordinator, credits the 21st CCLC grant with helping the program to get off the ground, because it encouraged the greater involvement by the school and collaboration with community partners. But LaPerle also stresses the staff’s willingness to listen to the kids. “Kids vote with their feet,” he said, and if students aren’t coming to a specific activity, it should probably be changed. Undoubtedly, this kid-focused attitude is a huge contributor to Cityscape’s success in student retention and has been key to Cityscape’s ability to continue to serve students through the years. EDITOR'S NOTE: Barre City was one of the first communities to be awarded a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant to support its afterschool programs. The federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative has just marked 10 years of supporting community afterschool programs. Today, it remains the only federal funding source dedicated to afterschool programs.