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Schools Out! Program stronger than ever in Ossipee

April 28, 2011
OSSIPEE — Eight years ago, a team with a dream wrote a grant and the town's afterschool program was born. Today, 75 percent of the Ossipee Central School students participate in the program, which runs five days a week through the whole school year.

Staying after school is not a bad thing here as kids enjoy staying after for homework help, snack, and their choice of enrichment activities.

"I see programs that last but not as successful as this – we are booming!" said Ossipee Schools Out! Director Jen Berkowitz. "We are investing in the children and the community."

It is easy to understand why the program has been recognized as a model afterschool program in the state. It's first-come-first-served for those activities and they do fill up fast, with many having a 10-15 student waiting list. And most of the activities are ones that Ossipee students would not have a chance to try if not for the program. There are guitar lessons, robot building for competition using Lego Mindstorms technology, rock climbing, cooking lessons, jewelry design, yoga, toymaking, drama club production of Alice in Wonderland, nature club, sewing class, babysitting course, school newspaper staff, Green Team recycling club, drill team, Youth Beatz featuring national professional touring rock drummer Rich Regione who teaches life lessons through drumming and many more. Twenty-five different clubs are offered each quarter.

The cost per club per quarter ranges from $9 to $36 and includes snack, homework help, activities, and bus transportation to those students who need a ride home. The sliding scale is based on the same criteria as the free/reduced lunch program. And that is just one reason why so many students in this school, where 66 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, can afford to attend the program. Another major funding source that helps families is scholarships offered by the Ossipee Children's Fund.

The program is in its third year of the second five-year 21st Century Community Learning Center grant they have received. This is a state grant of federal funds administered through the N.H. Department of Education. The grant funds $82,000 of the program's nearly $200,000 annual budget. For the first time since the program began, Berkowitz said she is nervous about the future of the federal grant the program so heavily relies on. The original grant was written to serve a total of 60 students in the program. Eight years later, the program serves 60 to 120 students a day.

The program is funded by a variety of grant sources to diversify its income flow. If one source of funding dries up, there are others that can fill the void. At least for now.

Berkowitz is constantly exploring new funding sources and community partnerships to keep the program running at the high caliber that the parents and students of Ossipee are fortunate enough to be now accustomed to. Program fees do offset a small portion of the program costs but, in an effort to make the program accessible to as many children as possible, the fees have not increased in eight years. Berkowitz works hard to keep program costs tight as well, with none of the staff members taking a pay raise in eight years. The program used to run with Berkowitz, school staff and volunteers. Due to the increased interest and need, the program now employees a part-time secretary and a part-time site director and pays club leaders a stipend for running the various enrichment activities.

Partnerships make a big difference for the program as well as it looks not to replace but rather supplement the efforts of youth programs already in place in town, including Ossipee Recreation and Ossipee Concerned Citizens Childcare program. One way it does this is to share the bus that gets students to two dozen different bus stops in Ossipee at the end of the program day.

Berkowitz is quick to point out that the program would not be even close to successful without the tremendous support of the Governor Wentworth Regional School District. Schools Out! pays for the afterschool bus but the school district allows the program to use the school building for all of its programs. If the program had to rent a building and pay all of the costs of running it, they would likely not be able to afford to keep the program going.

With the grants and in-kind support the program is also interested in community and business sponsors who might be interested in investing in the program. Anyone interested in sponsoring a child by providing a scholarship for a quarter or a year or in sponsoring a club by making a monetary donations to purchase supplies or equipment for a club can contact Berkowitz at Ossipee Central School at 539-4589.

North Country Environmental
Martin Lord Osman
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