City seeks to expand after-school help

NASHUA – The school district is looking to expand its 21st Century after- school program to the middle schools and high schools.

The program, currently available in five low-income elementary schools, would provide services such as academic tutorials and homework help to teenagers, or “things that might be lacking with some of the students,” said John Cepaitis, director of the program, during a presentation to the school board Monday night.

Schools are eligible for the program if 30 percent or more of students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, which is often used as an indicator of poverty. The program is available at Amherst Street, Ledge Street, Dr. Crisp, Fairgrounds and Mount Pleasant elementary schools.

Due to increased poverty, Cepaitis said all three of the city’s middle schools are now eligible. The two high schools also qualify because the middle schools feed into them, he said.

Cepaitis said he is seeking a $3.125 million, five-year grant from the state to expand the 21st Century Extended Day Program. That breaks down to $125,000 per school over the life of the grant.

“Each of our principals we have met with indicated this is something they would be interested in weaving into the dropout prevention initiative in the district,” Cepaitis said.

Sue Almeida, 21st Century program developer, said the money would pay for staffing, programming and transportation costs, among other things.

“Each program would have a full-time coordinator,” she said.

More schools being eligible for the grant is another indicator that the district’s poverty rate continues to grow. Almeida said the district is applying for the grant to help more students who need additional resources.

Although lower-income schools have priority, the program is open to all students within the school, regardless of income, Almeida said.

The district has to confirm its intent to apply with the state Department of Education by Jan. 23. The application is due March 2, and notification is expected by May 1.

Almeida said if the district gets the grant, there is the possibility of some programs being available for summer school, with a full rollout the beginning of next school year.

At the high-school level, the grant will bring added support to students being serviced under the current dropout prevention grant program. The state gives priority to districts like Nashua that are “in need of improvement.”

To apply for the grant, the program needs a community partner. Cepaitis said the program would be partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua, which is in the process of building a new teen center.

Almeida said that while the high schools already offer many extracurricular activities, the purpose of this grant would be to focus on those students who don’t fit into those activities.

“It might be because of different issues or developmental problems,” she said.