PORTLAND, Maine — Thirty-two learning centers will be established or expanded at schools across the state thanks to an $11.3 million federal grant, Gov. Paul LePage announced Friday.
The grant is part of an initiative called 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which funds academic and enrichment programs for students outside of school hours, LePage said during a press conference at the Howard C. Reiche Community School. The learning centers are geared toward students who are from low-income or immigrant families or are struggling in school.
In Portland, the money will be used to add three years of funding to the five-year-old grant for afterschool and summertime programs at the East End and Reiche elementary schools, as well as to expand those programs to the Riverton and Hall schools. The programs will reach about 200 students in Portland with the funding announced Friday.
In South Portland, the programs will be launched in Kaler and Skillin Elementary Schools, reaching about 100 students between the two schools.
Ethan Strimling, executive director of LearningWorks, the nonprofit that will help administer the programs in Portland and South Portland, said 90 percent of the students who have already gone through the East End and Reiche programs advanced a full grade level in their academic proficiencies, while 50 percent of those advanced by more than a grade level.
“We really appreciate this funding from the Department of Education, and you can expect the Portland Public Schools to deliver on the results,” Emmanuel Caulk, superintendent of schools in Portland, said Friday afternoon.
“There are probably a few areas the governor and I don’t agree on, but this shows that there are places where competing ideologies can come together,” said Strimling, a former Democratic state lawmaker who writes political columns from a left-leaning perspective.
Strimling said the education grants announced Friday — the largest his organization has seen — represent a middle ground between the governor’s “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mantra, and the “it takes a village to raise a child” concept trumpeted by Strimling and other Democrats.
“If you pull yourself up by the bootstraps, we will be the community here to support you,” Strimling said of LearningWorks and their programs.
LePage, whose story of running away from an abusive father and living without a home in Lewiston as a boy is well documented, related the program to his own experience.
“Many children face language barriers and economic barriers. I faced both,” he said. “It’s really important that these at-risk students be given every opportunity to succeed and achieve their American dream.”
Superintendent of the South Portland School Department Suzanne Godin and state Education Commissioner Jim Rier were also on hand for the announcement in Maine’s largest city.
The Fairmount School in Bangor will receive $507,524 over five years as part of this program.
Principal Ryan Enman said the money will be used to increase the academic and recreational programs the school offers before and after the school day and in the summer. The programs will be open to all students, not just those considered “at risk.” He expects at least 250 students to benefit from the programs.
“The more students are connected and involved in school, the better they perform,” Enman said.
The grant will allow the school to offer a four-week summer program in 2015, the details of which have yet to be determined.
He also hopes the grant will support a collaboration with the Bangor Police Department, which offers night classes to parents, as well as a partnership with Challenger Learning Center, which offers education programs in space and earth science.
Though the grant is federally funded, the Maine Department of Education decides which districts and nonprofits will receive the money.