Over the past two years Pennsylvania’s education system has been hit hard by budget cuts. The Free library was nearly shut down when the state had problems coming up with a worthwhile budget plan back in 2009. Then it was hit even harder when Governor Tom Corbett cut the education budget by 50 percent. Many schools in the district have lost much of their after-school programming, unable to support the costs to do so.
But independent programs have been taking many students in who would have originally stayed at school for an after-school program. And they’ve found a way to make it work even with slight increases in attendance and their own limited budgets.
St. Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, located at 1939 W. Venango St., has been providing several different forms of after-school programming to the surrounding neighborhood. It runs your typical ages eight to 11 program as well as a recently added a pre-school program to their roster. Though, they are feeling the repercussions of the budget cuts, St. Mercy Neighborhood Ministries has been able to keep a relatively stable budget. With its position as a private foundation the group doesn’t have to rely so heavily on government funding.
Even the issue of working with larger attendance is not a problem for them. This is all thanks to a set quota of 100 students, which takes away the concern of staff being stretched thin by additional work.
“We have a full staff of 10 people, which are each prepared to work with a particular age group,” said Barbara Coleman, the head of child care. “We’re actually very stable right now.”
Parents must go through an application process in order to enroll their children. While this may seem exclusive, many parents are willing to work with St. Mercy so their child has some place to go after school.
At the Nicetown-Tioga branch of the Free Library staffing issues have created some difficulties for the workers there, in particular the Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program. Provided by the Free Library, LEAP is a free drop-in program for children ages 8-14. The program provides students help with homework and even some fun activities for the younger kids. However, these are still intended to provide some kind of literary and educational theme for the kids to learn from. This has made the group far more resourceful by allowing them to come up with several ideas for kids activities.
With a rise in attendance staff is somewhat spread thin.
“Dealing with such a wide age range makes it difficult to attend to all of the kids,” said Michael Durkin, LEAP leader for the Nicetown-Tioga branch. “More time spent on homework may occasionally drain time from doing the activities.”
Keeping a healthy number of staff members hasn’t been easy due to the budget cuts. Durkin for the most part leads the group and helps with most of the teens who come in. Many of the LEAP leaders are post-graduate college students who typically apply their degree to the activities they help create.
Durkin is also helped by three teenagers from the surrounding area who provide their time to helping the younger kids in the program.
“Two falls ago, funding cuts caused us to lose a lot of people then,” Durkin said.
However, he also pointed out that more funding has recently come in from different granters. Since then staffing has increased and LEAP is still looking to hire more people.
But despite the rise in attendance creating certain problems, LEAP overall sees this spike as a sign that they’re doing their job.
“We see this rise in attendance as a good thing for us,” said Elizabeth Orsburn, the chief of the Office of Public Service Support at the Free Library. “The more kids we have coming in, The more we feel like we’re helping those areas improve their kids education.”
LEAP traditionally receives most of their funding from the Department of Human Services. We receive 70 percent of our funding from DHS,” Orsburn said. LEAP also receives several private funds and grants which helps add money to their DHS funds.
Now even the schools are starting to find ways to support themselves. Osburn explained some schools have been finding their own money or even work from nothing to help create after-school clubs and programs on site.
“We try to help the school district out as much as we can with helping set up new programs or create joint efforts with getting kids to after school programs,” Orsburn said.
Even with the tough losses the education system has had to endure, they’ve found support amongst each other. Independent non-profits and schools have found some way to make things work even with what little they have.
“I still see recurring teens coming everyday to receive help,” Durkin said. “It’s nice to see they are coming here and we’re keeping them off the street.”