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Wide-serving BHS program receives funding boost

BEMIDJI – A successful after-school and summertime program for at-risk students in the Bemidji School District has benefitted from another grant.

The latest grant, totaling nearly $900,000 over three years, brings the total of grants supporting the program over the $5 million mark.

“We’ve got a good rapport with the Department of Education,” said John Buckanaga, youth services coordinator with Bemidji Community Education. “They’ve been very happy with our program and what we’re doing in Bemidji.”

Written by Buckanaga and John McRae, assistant youth services coordinator, the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant was awarded to the district by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The Bemidji 21st Century program, offered to students in grades 2-12, helps at-risk students who are struggling academically, socially and emotionally. Participants, recommended for the program by their teachers, must be performing below grade level in reading and math.

It is offered at all Bemidji elementary schools, Bemidji Middle School and Bemidji High School. During the school year, it offers programming three days a week for 36 weeks. In the summer, a six-week program meets four days a week.

“(The Department of Education) continues to give us tremendous support because they see what kind of program we have up here,” Buckanaga said.

Partners include Bemidji Area Schools Targeted Services and the Bemidji Indian Education Department. These partnerships allow the programming to reach more students than the three entities could reach on their own.

“Because we put all of our funding together, we are able to provide transportation and snacks,” Kathy Palm, the district’s director of curriculum and administrative services, said Monday. “It’s a very comprehensive program. That’s why (Department of Education staff) are so supportive.”

The program started a decade ago with 55 students in grades 3-5.

In 2011-2012, 537 students in grades 2-12 took part, benefitting from tutoring and mentoring, academic enrichment, music, arts, cultural activities and more. Community-service opportunities also are part of the program as it has partnered with nonprofits such as the Girl Scouts, Beltrami County 4H and the Headwaters Science Center.

This summer, 245 students were enrolled in the program and 70 marked perfect attendance, Buckanaga noted.

The latest grant is the third 21st Century grant received by the district for the program. Others totaled $1.3 million and $1.25 million. The latest grant is renewable for another two years at the discretion of the Education Department. If that happens, it would then total to $1.5 million.

Other grants have included an $800,000 grant for Safe and Drug-Free Schools and $300,000 from the Minnesota Department of Education for after-school programming.