Grant to aid struggling students

Swanton Middle School will once again be able to give struggling students an extra boost after being awarded a 21st Century grant. The grant money will allow the school to offer the SMS ALPHA program before and after school.

“The 21st Century grant is a big deal for our school, not only because it is $900,000 over five years but what it is going to do for our students,” said middle school principal Matt Smith. “The money will allow us to find struggling students and offer them multiple teachers and staff after school to give them extra instruction, help them with homework, give them a healthy snack after a long day, interact and have fun with peers, and experience some cool events that we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.”

The program will run Monday through Friday mornings from 7-7:30 a.m. and Monday through Thursday after school from 2:30-5 p.m. Bus transportation will be available each day.

There is an array of exciting activities planned for the program.

“When I was putting together the grant with the help of Annette Rosebrook and Jill Proudfoot from the NWOESC they really wanted to shoot for some big ideas,” said Smith. “We had been turned down twice in a row, so we really thought we had nothing to lose.”

They went with ideas that wouldn’t normally be available within a tight school budget.

“We included great things in the proposal, such as getting 3-D printers, new electronics like Virtual Reality glasses, STEM kits, robotics, amazing field trips, guest speakers, family nights, training for teachers (which they require to receive a grant) which we plan to send a few staff members to Ron Clark Academy, and many partnerships with community groups like SACC, Penta Career Center, United Way, etc.”

That was apparently what the state wanted to see, as Swanton Middle School received the grant for the first time in eight years.

“Unfortunately, it ran out the month I was named SMS principal,” said Smith of the previous grant. “We had applied for the grant that spring but we did not get selected. It was a difficult situation, as many of our families had become used to the program and all the great things that came with it.”

Smith was able to form a partnership with the Fulton County United Way and Penta Career Center to keep a program going, but it was on a much smaller scale.

“The United Way stepped up with some money, and Penta agreed to bring out instructors about twice a month to teach a career exploration type lesson for our kids,” he said. “We had to cut back to three days a week and less hours, and we did not buy very many supplies, but we were able to give our students some after school programming.”

Smith redid the grant proposal and resubmitted it last summer only to again not receive funding.

“After completing the grant proposal again this spring, we received word from the state that they planned to not grant any this year. I was really bummed once again; however, our legislators reversed course and decided to continue the program,” said Smith. “Luckily, we received word last month that we were selected. The state’s flip-flopping cost us some time, as normally schools know early in the summer. Regardless, we are ecstatic to have been selected. This grant will give us the ability to do much more and impact a lot more students.”

Smith is grateful for the help received from Rosebrook and Proudfoot, and several teachers “have already stepped up to take leadership roles, like Julie LaPoint and Amanda Carrizales, plus many other staff members who are already signing up to help. We are very fortunate to receive this and I can’t wait to get started and see how this helps our kids.”

The program, which is slated to begin in middle to late October, is open to all students in grades 5-8. Sign-up is on a first-come, first-served basis with limited spaces available.

By Drew Stambaugh

Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010