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Grant finances much-needed academic support services

Date: 1/26/2011

Jan. 26, 2011

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Creative budgeting is the name of the game West Springfield High School administrators are trying to play and thus far have won this fiscal year.

After school tutoring programs vital to helping at-risk students pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) might not even exist if not for a $33,000 grant from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The after-school academic support program, which will run Jan. 31 until June, is offered to almost 400 at-risk students struggling with English, mathematics and sciences.

"There definitely would not be funds available [in the school's budget]," Principal Michael Richard said of financing after-school tutoring. "I couldn't even begin to know how we would fund this program."

The grant covers the costs of supplies, after-school busses and teachers' stipends.

The greatest challenge from an academic standpoint is keeping the students engaged in the program, Richard said, adding that attendance often wanes once spring sports begin.

Vice Principal Maria Silvestri noted administrators have added a guidance counselor this year to monitor program attendance and make the necessary inquiries with parents and guardians.

"We're hoping that the added support [means] they won't give up," Silvestri said, noting the program is also aimed at improving the school's graduation rate.

"Showing kids that they can perform at that level and achieve those scores [on the MCAS is critical]," Richard said. "We're not going to let kids quit on us and we're not going to quit on them."

He noted after-school tutoring is aimed at students who scored 220 or lower on the MCAS out of the possible 280 and those subgroups that did not meet their AYP such as special education and low income populations.

Richard explained he's counting on the DOE grant to fund the program next year, as budget forecasts "aren't looking promising."

"We are certainly doing everything we can to not affect instruction," he said of drafting next year's budget, which will take effect July 1. "We're trying to find the things that are furthest removed from the classroom. The bigger thing is getting people involved to figure out ways to conserve resources. A lot of tough conversations [are taking place] ... I need people to be honest with me and find out what we can afford to live without. We're here to educate students and that's our number one priority."

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