Struggling students in danger of failing will now have somewhere to go to get academic help after the last bell rings.
The first crop of 20 Lottery Education After-school Programs, which include six in Middle Tennessee, were recently awarded and they will share $2 million in unclaimed lottery prizes. Starting this fall, they'll provide tutoring, teach computer literacy, offer sports, and help students in danger of failing gain the reading and math skills they need.
About 140 school systems, faith-based groups and youth programs applied for this first round of funding. Laura Ellis, who oversees the new grant program for the state Department of Education, said many of the applications were creative and did a good job showing how badly after-school programs are needed statewide.
"They did an outstanding job identifying the needs of the kids they want to serve. It's going to be well spent," Ellis said. "We want to serve as many kids as possible in areas that are really underserved by after-school programs."
Groups that missed out on the first round of funding will soon have another chance. State education officials said the second round of grants may soon be available and they're holding out hope it will be another $2 million or more.
"We've already got people ready for the next round. They're just waiting for me to say 'go,' " said Ellis, who has told groups to watch the state's Web site in the coming months to see when more money will be available. "Once people got the word that the funding was available this time, I was overwhelmed. There was quite a bit of interest."
Although four of the funded programs are in Memphis and there's one in Knoxville, the overwhelming majority are in small towns or poor, rural counties where there tend to be fewer after-school programs. None of the funded programs were in Nashville.
Approved programs in Middle Tennessee are in Coffee, Giles, Putnam, Stewart, Warren and Wayne counties, and they're earmarked to serve nearly 500 students. Some are targeted at elementary schools or migrant populations but all are expected to target students from poor families or those who are in danger of failing school.
In the Midstate, grant amounts vary from $45,000 for elementary students in Tullahoma City Schools in Coffee County to $121,900 for students in Stewart County Schools. The largest overall grant amount was $282,000 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, which are headquartered in Knoxville.
"It's needed. It will allow us to serve kids who wouldn't have been able to participate," said Lisa Gafford, director of the after-school program for the Stewart County government, which applied for the grant.
"Our county is very spread out. Most of the children can't participate in any extracurricular activities because they don't have transportation home."
The grants are just the latest layer in the education-focused use of money from the state lottery approved by voters in 2002. Proceeds from the lottery also provide college scholarships, and some money has been earmarked for pre-K classes this fall.
"I'm proud we are able to invest these lottery funds in services for those children who need them most," Gov. Phil Bredesen said in a statement.
"Not every child comes to school with the same resources or support. A quality after-school program may be the only
pathway to success for some students," Bredesen said.
Some of the programs receiving funding will use the money to expand their existing after-school programs. That's the case in Wayne County, which used other funding to serve 500 students last year and plans to serve an additional 150 with the grant.
"We're going to be able to address more at the middle school level," said Terry Hampton, director of federal projects for the Wayne County school system. "We've been identifying students who need assistance."
Hampton said he has high hopes for students who are tapped to attend the expanded after-school program. "I would hope that children would be more motivated to be interested in school and to study."