HANSEN — School isn’t in session on Fridays in Hansen, but the lights are still on and children fill the building.
That’s because the Hansen School District offers nearly a full day of activities, thanks to federal grant money.
It’s the first year the district has received a 21st Century Community Learning Centers program grant, geared toward high-poverty schools.
A total of $800,000 over five years will be used to provide extra academic help and enrichment activities five days a week.
The program runs 90 minutes after school Mondays through Thursdays and six hours on Fridays. It includes homework help and tutoring, plus activities including dance, music, crafts and science lessons like dissecting trout.
“My idea is to bring things to Hansen that we don’t normally have here,” said Dacia Hernandez, Hansen’s 21st Century grant director.
Across south-central Idaho, several other school districts have a 21st Century grant for a before or after-school program: Harrison Elementary School in Twin Falls, Wendell, Buhl, Murtaugh and several campuses in Cassia County.
But on a national level, the future of the program is up in the air.
In March, Trump’s budget proposal called for zeroing out funds. If that happens, funding would run out in about two years and about 7,000 Idaho children would be left without an after-school offering.
The 21st Century program is about more than academics, said Michele Capps, superintendent of the Murtaugh School District, which is nearing the end of its five-year grant.
“There are so many more advantages, I don’t know if we can measure it,” she said. “It would be an incredible loss to a lot of communities if they cut that program.”
Across the country, the 21st Century program is a $1.2 billion initiative serving about 1.6 million low-income students, The Associated Press reported in May. Trump’s administration says there’s “no demonstrable evidence” that such programs improve students’ performance in school.
Despite the proposal, though, “the House and Senate vote on it and it creates the budget,” said Andrew Fletcher, 21st Century and student engagement coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education.
Both maintained funding so far, he said, but budget negotiations are still underway.
Despite uncertainty surrounding the program, the Idaho State Department of Education is accepting applications now for $1.5 million in new 21st Century grants for next school year.
The program’s future in Murtaugh
In Murtaugh, Capps said they’re weighing whether to reapply for a grant after it ends this school year, but they haven’t made a decision yet.
It’s the second time the district has received the grant. The first time was around 2000, but once the grant ended, “we let it go after that,” Capps said. It later decided to bring the program back.
Despite receiving federal funding, running a 21st Century program still costs money for a school district. And for employees, it means long work days, even if they do get extra pay.
“The director does a fantastic job,” Capps said. “It is a significant amount of work. The district does have to provide a lot of additional assistance to make it work.”
For each of the grant’s five years, Murtaugh School District received less federal funding, meaning the school district had to pick up a little more of the cost.
It also takes 10 staff members — teachers and paraprofessionals — to run the before and after-school program. It often means employees are working until 6 p.m. four nights a week.
“It’s hard on small districts because your staff gets tired,” Capps said.
But the program provides wonderful opportunities for children, she said, including Girl Scouts, tumbling and sewing. Those are activities students likely wouldn’t have access to — especially in a rural area. Plus, students get tutoring and homework help.
About 100 children from kindergarten through eighth-grade typically participate each day. On peak days, that number can reach 130.
For a school district with only a few hundred students in preschool through 12th grades, that’s a huge turnout.
Capps said she hasn’t specifically looked into academic gains among children who participate. But there’s no doubt they do better academically if they’re getting homework help, she said.
Plus, she said, the program provides children with a safe place to go after school.
A new offering in Hansen
The Hansen School District used to offer an after-school program for three years under a different grant. But it focused on homework and tutoring and only ran three days a week.
Superintendent Kristin Beck heard about the 21st Century grant and decided to apply.
On average, 66 kindergarten through eighth-graders participate each day. When school district officials wrote the grant application, they were aiming for 100 children to attend.
Under the 21st Century grant, there’s enough funding to provide school busing for the students who participate. That wasn’t the case under the old after-school program.
One reason behind seeking the grant: The program provides a safe place for children to go on Fridays when school is out. The Hansen School District is on a four-day school week, with classes Monday through Thursday.
There are many two-parent working families in Hansen, Hernandez said, and sometimes, that means students as young as third grade might be home alone on Fridays.
After school on Mondays through Thursdays, one hour is spent on snack time and tutoring, leaving 30 minutes for an enrichment activity.
Program organizers hope to add more activities in the future, such as 3D printing, drones, sign language and Spanish.
So far, the activities have been a hit with the children, Hernandez said. “They learn something new and different in a fun environment.”
On Fridays, the school district is partnering with the University of Idaho’s Twin Falls County extension office for three hours of activities.
This Friday, students made volcanoes and worked with seeds while second and third-graders were learning about nutrition through the Eat Smart Idaho program.
In January, a robotics club will launch for fourth through eighth-graders, with the help of UI’s extension office.
The 21st Century program supports working parents, Fletcher said. “Parents don’t have to worry about where their kids are after school, and they have a safe and secure place to be.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.