If school officials get their wish, Pulaski Elementary students will be going to school for an extra 90 minutes every day. Meriden has applied for a highly selective three-year grant from the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund to pay for a before-school program for all 600 children at the school.
The program would run from 7:30 to 9 a.m., when the school day now starts, according to Lois Lehman, administrator of curriculum for Meriden Public Schools, who outlined the program for the school board’s Curriculum Committee Tuesday night. It would add the equivalent of 41 days to the school year.
The additional learning time will be invaluable in helping to bridge the achievement gap at the school, located in a high-poverty area of the city, said Ben Franklin Principal Dan Coffey, who is slated to become principal at Pulaski next year.
The proposed before-school program includes three components:
- Healthy living and fitness (including a healthy breakfast served at school, where a sizeable percentage of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals)
- Science, technology and math enrichment
- A reading initiative
The grant provides $150,000 the first year, up to $200,000 the second year, and $150,000 the third year. Meriden was invited to apply after submitting a letter of intent, but it is far from a sure thing. Since 2009, AFT has given out only 20 Innovation Fund grants. Last year, the organization awarded only five, mainly to large urban areas such as Chicago, Denver and St. Louis.
Lehman pointed out that the program would “fold in nicely with the Promise Neighborhood grant,” a $460,000 planning grant from the Department of Education for expanding the Meriden Family Zone, a network of inner-city social supports for children and families. One of the goals of that grant is to provide more before- and after-school programs in the Zone, Lehman said.
A variety of community organizations including the YMCA, Literacy Volunteers and the Senior Buddy Readers have already agreed to participate in the program if it gets funding, Lehman explained.
In addition, seven teachers have already volunteered, even though the staff was only recently introduced to the idea, according to Coffey. Teachers do get a stipend for taking part, said Superintendent Mark Benigni.
“The staff is very excited. Everyone has been very positive,” said Christine Winiarski, interim principal at Pulaski.
A long-term goal of the program is to provide flex time for teachers, Benigni said. Some teachers might work from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and others from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“The district picks up the ability to bring in outside people during the school day and introduce teacher flex time,” he added.
School board member Pam Bahre asked how parents of young children might react to the longer school day. Coffey related that he visited a school in Boston that has a before-school program, and the feedback from working parents was positive.
“It’s nice because the kids won’t be tired,” Lehman said, as they would be if the school day were extended at the end instead of at the beginning.