“The 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant is the best thing that could have happened to our town.” That’s how Paula Little, the YMCA’s new coordinator of extended school services in Clinton County, Kentucky, describes afterschool programs in her rural community. The county has little in the way of infrastructure – few local businesses, not enough child care centers, and long distances between students’ homes and their schools. But it has plenty in the way of poverty – almost half of all children in the county seat of Albany live below the poverty line.
In 1995, the county received one of the nation’s initial 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) pilot grants. The county used the grant to increase parental involvement in the schools, and to support a middle school afterschool program that ended up serving about 400 of the school’s 475 students. The program exposed kids to new and exciting activities, including drama and dance classes, as well as sports and science.
A second grant helped to fund a much-needed expansion, bringing afterschool programming to students at the county’s sole elementary school. It helped leverage funding from the state’s extended school services program, making it possible for both the elementary and middle school programs to operate, even without an increase in 21st CCLC funding. The majority of children in the elementary school participated in the program at one time or another.
Today, Clinton County’s afterschool programs are still supported by a single – and shrinking – 21st CCLC grant, and are struggling to maintain their high level of services as funding dwindles. The state cut 21st CCLC grant awards and no longer contributes enough of its own dollars to make up the difference, as it did in the past. In fact, state extended school services have been cut by nearly 70 percent in the last few years. So, for the first time in their ten-year history, Clinton’s 21st CCLC programs will not be able to provide transportation for children – a big problem in this rural setting.
Whatever the future holds, there’s no disputing the enormous and important impact that 21st CCLC has had on Clinton County. Community members have stepped up to support the program, volunteering and offering their services in whatever way they can. And, in recognition of the important role afterschool plays in educating students, the school district has hired a YMCA coordinator, who will work to supplement current services. The challenge is great, but the coordinator will have a strong base of support on which to build and a community that understands the value of afterschool.