What a joy it has been to build Beyond the Bell hand-in-hand with countless staff, volunteers and community partners into the leading out-of-school time program in the Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) in just a few short years. Our program model is grounded in the research that shows that consistent participation in quality programs leads to young people being more engaged with their learning, doing better in school, and more prepared and hopeful about their college/career options. We have served hundreds of young people for more time, supported working families, and engaged a wide-array of local professionals and community partners to teach about careers like web design, aviation and the arts.
Despite our success and reputation of positive impact in our schools and community, Beyond the Bell is at risk of completely disappearing at the end of this school year at Thomas Harrison Middle School without the support and financial backing of the Harrisonburg City School Board. This already happened last year at Skyline Middle and Smithland Elementary Schools.
Where We've Been
Beyond the Bell was created out of our most recent federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, which have brought more than $4.1 million into HCPS and our community since 2005, thanks to the leadership of JMU's College of Education. Not only have these funds been used to create an out-of-school time program model that works, but they have supported countless other organizations and programs in our community like Precious Gems Academy, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Second Home as well as other out-of-school time initiatives in HCPS. The grants have always been designed with the intention that they are sustained on a local level because of their value to our young people, families and community.
After failing to garner the support of the Superintendent, I presented (watch here around minute 8) to the School Board on Tuesday, February 18th about Beyond the Bell's story of impact, and asked them to fully fund both middle school programs next year. The presentation was just the beginning though, as more than a dozen students, parents, teachers and community leaders also spoke during public comment to the importance of Beyond the Bell and why our programs need to be sustained at a local level. Because of the "power of the people," the Daily News Record ran a front-page story about Beyond the Bell and our efforts to secure local funding on Saturday, February 22nd. Read it here.
Based on the comments made in the DNR article, which seemingly boast about how little HCPS can spend on after-school programs, and talk about how we need to have cost-effective ways to meet the growing demands of our school division (our programs operate at $7/student/hour and are on-par with comparable programs across the country- see Wallace Foundation report), we need to continue to make our presence known, voice heard, and show that quality out-of-school time programs like Beyond the Bell are important to our community! Currently, HCPS reports that it spends around $300,000 per year (K-12) on all after-school activities, which is a marginal .4% of their $62 million budget, with no indication that those dollars are invested in quality, in-depth, rigorous programs like Beyond the Bell that lead to long-lasting impact for our students and families.
This Tuesday, March 4th, we need YOU to join US at the Harrisonburg City School Board meeting so that we can make a powerful statement that Beyond the Bell and quality out-of-school time programs are a priority for our young people, working families and entire community, and are an investment worth making! The meeting is at 7 p.m. at 409 South Main Street in the City Council Chambers.
We have invited our Beyond the Bell students and families to attend, and are hoping for a strong showing from residents, community leaders and others, who believe that quality out-of-school time programs are a cost-effective way to help our young people do better in school, discover new interests, gain exposure to college/career possibilities, keep them safe between the hours of 3-6 p.m. and address a real need for our low-income families.
Your presence is most appreciated but you will also have the opportunity to speak during public comment if you wish. It can be as simple as "My name is _______. I live at _______ and I am here to speak about Beyond the Bell. I would like to see the School Board fund Beyond the Bell because ____________."
I will leave you with a quote from Paloma Saucedo, a working mother of a 6th grade student at Skyline Middle, who shared at the last School Board meeting that "I hope you [School Board] don't see this as an expense, but an investment in our youth and community."
Please be in touch if you have any questions. See you on Tuesday night!
Brent Holsinger, M.Ed.
Director, Beyond the Bell