Decatur Is Able to Offer Free After-school Programmes Thanks to Covid Assistance

It has long been a goal of Decatur Public Schools to provide classes before and after school hours. That was only possible because of federal COVID-19 relief.

The last time DPS attempted to implement this optional, extended school day, families were required to pay for the privilege. It’s now completely free thanks to COVID relief.

It was at the top of my list three years ago.

” When we asked parents if they wanted a before- and after-school programme,

The majority said “yes.”

“Yes, our students would attend,”

says DPS Strategic Planning Executive Director Ashley Grayned.

However, actual attendance was low. Grayned estimates that only about 50 students attended classes in various buildings because their families had other options that worked better for their budgets.

This fall, DPS relaunched the programme as free, and participation skyrocketed. Now, around 500 students arrive each week to participate.

Until 2024, the city of Decatur has $50 million available for investment.

From the time the sun rises to the time the sun sets, students in grades pre-K through 8th attend Decatur schools. Every night, they sit down to a free dinner, study robotics and music, and get extra help with their reading.

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The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund is being used to pay for the programme (ESSER III).

In the most recent round of federal COVID-19 relief, the Decatur Public Schools received about $50 million. In a typical year, the district only spends double that amount, or $100 million.

School districts can use ESSER III as they please, but they must demonstrate how the funds are being used to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grayned explains that the district hopes to combat widespread learning loss by implementing a longer school day.

What Grayned is saying is that for every student who is enrolled, “we can track how they’ve done” against students who aren’t enrolled, “hopefully looking at students who attended over 70% of the year, you know, and not just on half days.”

45 minutes a day are added to the school day for additional academic work, from reading and homework assistance to classroom instruction. The programme is staffed by high school students, college students, teachers, and assistant teachers.

This year’s ESSER III funding will be split between the extended-day programme (22%) and school building renovations (64%).

However, all of this federal aid expires in September 2024. To fund the programme, Grayned says DPS will look for grants from other public and private sources if it proves successful.