For 15 years, Billings middle school students where able to spend an hour after school, up to four days a week, getting help with homework. The programs were free and open to all students at the four middle schools, and teachers were paid to do the extra tutoring.
That program disappeared at the end of last school year because Safe and Drug Free Schools funding has been eliminated from the federal budget, according to assistant superintendent Gail Surwill. Statewide, Montana schools received $1.38 million in Safe and Drug Free Schools money last year, most of which was used for drug education and prevention programs, according to the Office of Public Instruction.
School District 2 had used some of this drug prevention money to fund the Homework Opportunity Time.
It’s not a stretch to see why constructive after school activity prevents drug abuse. The hours between school’s end and parents’ return from work can be risky for unsupervised youth.
At the same time, federal funding disappeared for a tutoring program designed for homeless children attending McKinley Elementary. They include students whose families may be living in local motels with no permanent housing.
Billings Public Schools officials have asked United Way of Yellowstone County for help.
“We want students to get the help they need to succeed in school,” said Kristin Lundgren of United Way. “We’re convening partners around that. We’re committed to finding a way to make that happen.”
A meeting has been scheduled for this week to bring together representatives of organizations interested in trying to fill the tutoring gap, Lundgren said. They include Montana State University Billings’ Upward Bound, Friendship House and Boys and Girls Club.
Fortunately, nonprofit community organizations already are working in most of the schools that lost tutoring programs.
- United Way operates Discover Zone after school programs at Will James and Lewis and Clark.
- Boys and Girls Club operates a program at Castle Rock.
- McKinley is one of five sites for United Way’s Care Academy after school program.
“One of the reasons we jumped on this is that it is something we could add to the scope of our current programs,” Lundgren said.
However, adding tutoring or expanding to serve the 20 to 30 students a day that used HOT at each school would require additional resources. Funding will be needed, even if homework programs can be managed on a lower budget than HOT had.
Anyone interested in supporting the effort to restore after-school tutoring in Billings schools, should contact Kristin Lundgren at United Way at 252-3839, extension 13.
While School District 2 struggles with its finances and the federal government talks about deficit reduction, cuts must not be allowed to hinder our students’ education. Effective, efficient community collaboration with teachers and schools can restore the help Billings students need.