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BEST Program Receives Substantial Grant

$2 million over 5 years to expand, enrich after-school program for disadvantaged youth

4J’s successful BEST After-School Program will continue and expand in 2013–14, thanks to a substantial multiyear grant. BEST (Boosting and Enriching Students Today) provides academic support and enrichment activities for struggling students at high-poverty schools.

The 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grant will provide a total of more than $2 million over five years. The funds will allow the BEST After-School Program to expand, enhance and enrich the after-school programs at Chávez, Howard and River Road elementary schools and Kelly Middle School, and to create a new program at Spring Creek Elementary School.

The mission of the BEST After-School Program is to boost academic achievement and provide a wide range of enrichment opportunities to disadvantaged youth. Students are invited to participate based on academic needs, with any additional slots available to other students by request. BEST provides a safe place, fun activities and caring adults to help students keep learning after school. The program boosts students’ academic skills with tutoring and mentoring, and gives them extensive opportunities to explore enrichment activities such as art, music, science, fitness and cooking.

The results are promising. Locally, academic achievement data shows that these after-school hours often make the difference between school success and failure. Nationwide, research shows that students in after-school programs not only experience greater academic success, they also have better school attendance and behavior, have stronger peer relationships and feel safer at school, develop stronger relationships with adults, and have families that feel more connected to the schools.

Community partners are an important part of BEST’s success. Among them: The University of Oregon’s work study program and Ganas mentoring program provide tutors to help participants achieve academic success. The City of Eugene’s recreation and cultural services divisions provide enrichment activities from art and science to rock climbing and dance. School Garden Project master gardeners lead students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning in the school gardens. Eugene Symphony and Eugene-Springfield Youth Orchestras (formerly Arts Umbrella) teach students to sing and play musical instruments. Reading assistance dogs from PAAWS provide an uncritical ear, helping reluctant readers to improve their reading fluency and enjoyment. Sodexo provides food and LCC’s Culinary Arts program hosts field trips for middle school students learning to cook. And every student in the program is served a nutritionally balanced dinner thanks to the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Community donations also have helped the BEST program continue and add more students in recent years. Major community supporters include the Tykeson Family Charitable Trust, Oregon Community Credit Union, Papé Family Foundation, Levi Strauss & Co., local Rotary clubs, the Williams Family in memory of their son Patrick, an anonymous private donor, and Eugene Education Foundation.

The new CCLC grant will provide $484,941 per year for the first three years. In the fourth year the grant will decrease to 75 percent and in the fifth year to 50 percent of the full funding level. The competitive CCLC grants are funded through the federal Title IV-B program, part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and are designed to improve student achievement in high-poverty schools through high-quality programs offered outside of the regular school day.

BEST continues to seek community connections to expand services to more students.

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