MARION — Summer break for students at Marion Public Schools might only be a few weeks old but Chris Arrington is already excited for the start of the new school year.
It shouldn't be a surprise as he is the superintendent and elementary school principal for the district but when students return to the classroom in August there will be some new programming available to them. Recently, Marion was told it's elementary was going to be one of four new school districts that will be receiving afterschool programming from Traverse City non-profit SEEDS.
The funding for the program is coming via the new 21st Century Community Learning Center grants by the Michigan Department of Education. The funds are to be used for daily after-school enrichment activities in partnership with schools in underserved areas.
SEEDS is a 501c3 nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to implement local solutions to global challenges at the intersection of ecology, education and community design. SEEDS’ goal is to foster healthy, vibrant communities filled with clean food, great kids and helpful neighbors.
SEEDS After School programming began in 2009 and focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics as well as getting students out-of-doors and active. Students at grant sites have access to free programming four days per week and during the summer.
This past academic year, SEEDS served more than 350 unique students with nearly 30,000 hours of academic and cultural enrichment.
Arrington said the district didn't apply for the program with SEEDS but rather he learned of the organization last fall. He then hopped online and researched the organization. He immediately liked what he saw and reached out to leadership.
"I just started a dialogue to see if we would be a good fit. The more we talked the more we got excited about what the program would look like," he said.
Arrington said he gathered a lot of data including district's demographics and finances. With that information, he wrote a grant narrative and tried to put in as much information as he could to help SEEDS with its grant writing, which ultimately was successful.
SEEDS After School Program Director Nicole Heffelfinger said the organization will receive $135,000 per year for a duration of five years, totaling a $675,000 for each of the 11 sites utilizing the program. She also said grants are based on the following criteria including a high percentage of low-income families in the school served, a high percentage of students with chronic absences, schools that did not meet proficiency targets for math or ELA 2017-2018, and geographic location.
The programming is offered free to families within the district after school for a total of 32 weeks. During the school year, the program is four days a week, generally Monday-Thursday for an average of three hours per day. Summer programming also is part of the program and is free to families in the district. It too is for Monday-Thursday for an average of 4-6 hours a day.
"Our target is to serve 31 youth per site but would happily serve more given we have the staff and resources to provide safe, quality programming," she said. "We will employee 3-4 people per site. We are hiring for site coordinators now and support staff closer to September."
Once the program begins this fall, Heffelfinger said it will offer free meals, homework support and enrichment programs. There is a strong focus on e-STEAM which is environmental, science, technology, engineering, art and math. There also is a focus on social-emotional learning, she said. Finally, the program offers field trips to various places around northwest Michigan.
Ultimately, SEEDS has the opportunity to cater to each site and the community's needs which can include offering transportation home. Heffelfinger said Marion has already indicated that will likely be the scenario for them.
Although SEEDS facilitates the program, Heffelfinger said the community buy-in and partnership is vital to success. Besides providing the space to have the program, she said her organization works with the district to identify youth who would most benefit from the program, connect with teachers about homework assignments and connect with community partners or vendors who can provide specialized enrichment programming.
"We try to connect with the school and local community as much as possible to create meaningful, relevant experiences for our youth and their families," she said. "Additionally the school supports us in data collection to report to MDE such as student, teacher and parent surveys along with academic reports for students who attend our program."
Marion is not the o nly local school utilizing the grant dollars as Fife Lake Elementary, Forest Area Middle School and Jewett Elementary in Mesick have had their programs renewed. Once the four new programs are added this fall, including Marion Elementary School, it will bring the total to 11 after-school programs.
Other sites where the grant is being utilized include Rapid City Elementary, Kaleva Norman Dickson Elementary, Brethren Middle School, Betsie Valley Elementary, Cherry Street Intermediate and Benzie Central Middle School.
Information about each current After School site can be found online at www.ecoseeds.org and clicking the “Teaching and Learning‘ link. More information about the new sites will be available in the fall.