Extended day program at Roger Sherman School in Meriden casualty of budget cuts

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MERIDEN — The elimination of the extended day program at Roger Sherman Elementary School was among the casualties as the school board prepared its next budget.

The $374,456 cost was part of $914,679 the school board voted to shave off its $104.9 million proposed budget. The final budget, passed earlier this month was just over $100.6 million. The extended day program will end at Roger Sherman June.

“We will offer some after school enrichment activities at Sherman next year,” said School Superintendent Mark Benigni.

Roger Sherman was one of three schools that offered the expanded schedule. Doors opened at 7:40 a.m. and closed at 3:40 p.m. 

Casimir Pulaski, the school that pioneered the program in Meriden in 2012, lost it last year. John Barry School will continue to offer extended day thanks to a school improvement grant of $381,164.

The program added 100 minutes to the school day and has featured programs such as yoga, karate, dance, music, and swim, through partnerships with the Meriden YMCA, the Meriden Boys & Girls Club and Valentin Karate.

 School officials hailed its success, crediting it with improvements in math and reading test scores and narrowing the achievement gap on the Connecticut Mastery Test. The schools also saw better attendance rates and student perception of teachers, educators said.

"It was innovative," Casimir Pulaski Principal Dan Coffey said in August 2018. "We did a lot of things that no one had tried before. We had a great run with it. We offered a lot of things to kids that they wouldn't get in the outside world."

Roger Sherman Principal Louise Moss plans to meet with Coffey about how he structured Pulaski’s after school program once extended day was eliminated. She said Roger Sherman teachers were already talking about activities and courses they could offer once the program ends. 

‘A direct hit’

Extended day had only been at Roger Sherman for one year and parent reaction to its elimination was mixed, Moss said. Some parents welcomed the opportunities for students, others complained the children came home exhausted. Overall, educators agreed it was a benefit.

“It made students more well-rounded,” said Roger Sherman assistant principal Anita Gennaro. “It introduced them to activities and opportunities they might not get outside.” 

Extended day came to Meriden through grants from the National Center on Time & Learning based in Boston, the Ford Foundation, and the National Federation of Teachers. The program was intended to introduce students in lower-income school districts to enrichment activities available to their wealthier peers.  

Meriden received national recognition after starting the extended day program at Pulaski in 2012 because it was reportedly one of the first in the country. The program "helped put (Meriden) on the map," Board of Education President Mark Hughes said in August 2018. 

Erin Benham, president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers, was a strong backer from the outset. After some shuffling around of teacher schedules, the schools were able to operate smoothly. The national teachers union gave the district $500,000 over two years to support the program at Pulaski, Sherman and Barry.

Benham doesn’t think the after-school academies will have the same benefit. 

“Our funding from the city has not been there and this is a direct hit on our students and parents,” Benham said. “The district still has needs, unfortunately programs go before people.”

Benham points to the students who attended Casimir Pulaski from 2012 to 2017, an entire cohort that attended school one full year longer than other students. 

Staff hopes to continue the program at John Barry School. 

“During tough budget times, and as grant dollars run out, difficult decisions need to be made,” Benigni said. “I am glad we will continue the extended day program at Barry next year.”  

Bridging gaps

Jennifer Davis co-founded the National Center on Time & Learning. It is dedicated to expanding the American school calendar and improving opportunities for low-income students in Massachusetts. 

Over the past 10 years the number of schools with extended days has increased because some new schools and charter schools have added the program. But it is often difficult to offer extended day in urban areas because of a lack of funding. 

Davis hopes more philanthropy can help bridge the budget gaps and restore the extended day programs to Connecticut students. 

“I hope that Meriden is able to continue on this trajectory,” Davis said. “They were a shining star in the state and I’m saddened to hear about the cutbacks.”

Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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