Council Adds Money for Largest-Ever Expansion of After-School Program

Council Adds Money for Largest-Ever Expansion of After-School Program

‘Excel Beyond the Bell’ to be added to four high-poverty elementary schools next year

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Students do homework during an Excel Beyond the Bell program at a county school.

Photo courtesy Montgomery County Recreation Department

In the new budget it approved this week, the Montgomery County Council included money for the largest-ever one-year expansion of an after-school program targeted at low-income elementary and middle schools.

The council adopted the budget Thursday, which included $837,620 to expand the program to four yet-to-be-determined schools, bringing the total number of schools involved to 18.

“We have seen great results from our existing programs and knowing now that we are expanding to other locations means additional resources for some of our most at-risk children who need the assistance,” said County Council member Craig Rice, chair of the Education & Culture Committee.

Excel Beyond the Bell is a “comprehensive, high-quality after school program” that provides supervised academic and recreational opportunities for students, along with snacks and a meal.

Each site serves a maximum of 120 students five days a week.

The council took a special interest in expanding after school programs after a county Office of Legislative Oversight report earlier this year showed significant disparities in availability and participation based on income, parent involvement and access to transportation. The report indicated the 77 elementary schools with more than 25 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-priced meals had nearly 5,000 fewer after school program “bookings” than the 56 schools with lower rates of poorer students.

Typically, an after-school program provider has to get a permit for a room reservation and each permit is considered a “booking,” according to the report by the government oversight office, which suggested expanding Excel Beyond the Bell, now available at six elementary and eight middle schools.

There are 133 elementary schools in the Montgomery County school system.

“I want to get us to the point where every family has the option to afford high-quality after school programming, and we’re a long way from that, but this is a step in the right direction,” County Council member Hans Riemer said. “It’s one of those situations where we expand as much as we can now and at the same time plan out the bigger picture strategy.”

The council also included $250,000 for a new after-school initiative called “Skills for the Future,” which will fund grants to support youth science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

About $158,000 was also included in the budget to expand RexXtra programs – after-school programs offering sports, arts, baby sitting instruction, theater, sewing, dance, sports and more – to three middle schools.

The after-school programs are not included in the school system’s $2.68 billion budget for the next fiscal year; funds for each are included in different areas of the county’s overall budget.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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