BELLINGHAM – The United Way of Whatcom County has awarded a $41,000 grant to the Western Washington University Foundation to help fund “Closing the Opportunity Gap Through Free Extended-Day Programming,” a collaborative project of Western’s Woodring College of Education and Bellingham Public Schools (BPS).
This first-time funding from United Way – which is renewable for two additional years – will make it possible to offer new enrichment activities at Cordata Elementary School and expand a pilot program at Alderwood Elementary School. At both schools, more than two thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, about half are students of color, and about one third are English language learners. About 300 students at each school are expected to participate in this free program, which will also offer engagement and learning activities for families, including meals and English as a Second Language classes.
“We know that one of the factors positively impacting students’ experiences in schools is having access to quality after-school programs,” said Francisco Rios, dean of Western’s Woodring College of Education. “We are so pleased to partner with the Bellingham School District to assure that these students have this much needed after-school opportunity.”
Research shows that children’s participation in extended-day enrichment activities—including sports, music, art, drama, homework help, computer exploration, reading aloud and being read to—lead to more engagement with school, increased school attendance, higher academic achievement, and eventually higher rates of graduation from high school. Children in our community’s high-poverty schools do not have as many opportunities for after-school enrichment activities as do children at other BPS schools, where the financial resources of both families and PTAs pay for learning opportunities offered in the school building; by community recreation, educational, or arts organizations; and even by public agencies.
“We are so appreciative of our partnership with Woodring College of Education and for the financial support from United Way. The Bellingham Promise, the strategic plan for Bellingham Public Schools, compels us, as a community, to make a collective commitment and to do all we can to support our kids. We believe every child should be given the opportunity to discover and develop a passion, and we know that enrichment is a powerful way for students to explore and find a passion,” said Greg Baker, superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools.
“Closing the Opportunity Gap Through Free Extended-Day Programming” addresses the United Way of Whatcom County’s Collective Impact academic achievement goal that elementary students are prepared to succeed in later grades. The project also addresses one of the overarching goals of Whatcom County’s Community Health Improvement Plan: reducing disparities.
The United Way’s volunteer Fund Distribution Committee decided which programs to fund and total amounts per program after a month-long process of reviewing grant prposals and visiting programs.
Woodring and BPS provide joint oversight of the extended-day programming through the Collective Impact Partnership, a collaboration formed in 2012 along with community organizations, to help create equitable educational P-12 opportunities for the purpose of building a greater future for the community.
Bellingham Public Schools participation includes hiring and supervising site coordinators and instructors, providing late buses to drive participants home, and arranging snacks paid for with Federal funds.
Woodring participation includes Professor of Secondary Education Angela Harwood’s supervision of AmeriCorps volunteers and Western students who provide hundreds of hours of tutoring and mentoring while enrolled in service-learning classes.
Private funding is needed to augment contributions from Western Washington University, BPS, and other public dollars because extended-day programming is outside the state-funded mandates of both institutions. For BPS, services not defined as “basic education” must be funded by discretionary or outside funding sources – despite the fact that enrichment opportunities are invaluable in maximizing student success.
For Western, whose mandate is higher education, service-learning projects can be funded only to the extent the activities are integral to Western students’ education as future teachers – despite the fact that the experience college students gain working in diverse schools is another valued outcome of the program.
“This is another important example of how Western and the Woodring College of Education are making a meaningful difference in schools and communities,” Rios said. “We do so by creating significant alliances with school partners in our region to address pressing educational inequalities.”
For more information on this grant or the programs it supports, contact the Western Washington University Office of Communications and Marketing at (360) 650-3350.