Gov. Lamont announced $11 million in federal funding will be directed toward expanding summer enrichment and recreation programs for Connecticut students.
Summer enrichment providers will be able to apply for two types of grants to support their programming this summer. Expansion grants of up to $25,000 are geared towards local organizations to subsidize enrollment costs or expand the population of children they serve.
Regional or statewide organizations can apply for innovation grants of up to $250,000 to create new programming or implement programs on a broader scale. The state Department of Education anticipates that 25,000 students will benefit from the two grant programs. Lamont said he would like to see the state allocation “doubled or even tripled with a match from the cities and superintendents” who could leverage their own federal aid.
Jason Hartling, superintendent of Ledyard Public Schools, said his district was already planning to use federal funding to expand summer programming for students. Combatting learning loss is a goal, Hartling said, but his main focus is on socialization and student engagement, as the district did not see a dramatic decline in percentile scores.
“School is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic,” Hartling said. “Students missed out on physical education, interactions with peers, and play, which is all so important developmentally.”
Michelle Doucette Cunningham, executive director of the Connecticut After School Network, said she hopes the program will allow more students in the state to prepare to return to the classroom in the fall, but also “just experience the joy of learning in a way that they might not have felt as much this last year.”
Cunningham welcomed the additional aid, but said that finding staff to support the expanded programs would be a serious concern.
Michele Rulnick, president and CEO of the YMCA of Northern Middlesex County, said the YMCA has also suffered from staffing challenges, and that she would guarantee that any college student who wants a job at a summer camp this year will be able to find one.
Hartling echoed those staffing concerns, saying that educators in Ledyard will likely need the summer to recover from a challenging academic year.
“We are all very, very tired,” Hartling said. “There are a number of people who, in a normal year, probably would have volunteered to do summer enrichment opportunities, but this year, they’re going to take the summer off to recharge.”
In the Lyme-Old Lyme School District, which maintained in-person education during the 2020-2021 academic year, learning loss is less of a concern. But Superintendent Ian Neviaser said the district will also use their own federal funds for summer programming, with a focus on social and emotional programming and the arts, and did not anticipate taking advantage of Lamont’s grant program.
“With $11 million for the entire state, I’m a realist, and I know none of that’s going to Lyme and Old Lyme,” Neviaser said. “I’m not hopeful we’d get money from that grant, because those funds generally go to communities with more need, which makes sense.”
Neviaser said he expected Alliance Districts, the 33 lowest-performing school districts in the state, to receive the lion’s share of the funding.
Bridgeport Superintendent Michael Testani said that he is hopeful that his students will receive the funding they need.
“We would never want to leave money on the table, so I’m hopeful we get our fair share of these funds,” said Testani, who shared that he hopes Bridgeport students will be able to access fun summer activities through community partners.
Testani said that the city has also struggled to find staff for educational summer programming.
“As much as we’d like to service as many kids as possible this summer, I don’t know if we’re going to have the bodies to do it,” Testani said. “This extremely difficult year of synchronous learning has led to a lot of burnout, and our teachers need to take some time to relax.”