“That’s a real dead body,” 15-year-old Evann Meyers recalled thinking during a recent trip to a local morgue.
It wasn’t a typical day in her after-school program at Common Ground High School, but it was memorable. And because of state budget cuts it could soon be a rare adventure.
Evann, a 15-year-old freshman at Common Ground who wants to become a surgeon, is one of 127 of the high school’s 195 students who participate in after-school programs. Those programs are in danger of losing funding as the state looks for cuts to erase a projected $1.7 billion deficit.
Common Ground’s programs receive funding from the state After-School Grant Program and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. The school is slated to get $10,000 from United Way of Greater New Haven every year for the next three years to further support after-school programs that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. With those funds, the school’s after-school program budget is $136,000.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $40.6 billion budget calls for consolidating the State After-School Grant Program, Family Resource Centers, Neighborhood Youth Centers and Young Parents Program into one Student Support Service grant. Then the pool of funding for those programs is to then be cut by half.
That worries Ashton Killilea, who heads up Common Ground’s after-school programs. The school’s per-pupil funding from the state is already several thousand dollars less than what’s spent in New Haven Public Schools.
“We don’t have anything like this during the school day,” Killilea said. “Not every kid can take art, but they can stay after school and be part of our Business of Art program. Not every student can take physical education, but they can join our basketball or cycling program. Then there are the after-school writing and math labs, and homework center, which are so important for students who need extra help to do well in class. We are able to give students credit for participating in these programs.”
“For students who struggle in the classroom, after-school is a place where they are able to succeed and lead,” she added.
It’s also where they get a hands on opportunity to dissect animals and learn about biology and anatomy and future careers in medicine, or put together a podcast and explore the world around them.
In his 12 years at Common Ground, literature and language arts teacher Keith Lambert has helped guide students through after-school drama club. Now he is helping them build a online station and shows. He said aside from a little guidance and technical assistance, the students develop their own show concepts and produce them.
“The diversity of the after-school programming—it just changes every year based on what the kids are interested in,” Lambert said. “We have that flexibility and we have the teachers that are interested in investing their time,” but raising money to keep the programs going is a tough prospect.
Maite Aguirre, a Common Ground special education teaching assistant who works with the STEM after-school programs, said they expose students to medicine and architecture. The recent trip to the morgue was done in collaboration with residents of Yale University School of Medicine and exposes the students to the medical field and the educational path needed to enter that field.
Students who made the trip to the morgue passed their first test: Nobody passed out.
“When I first saw it, I thought ‘That’s a real dead body,’” 15-year-old sophomore Linda Torres said. “The idea of it [a real dead body] is nothing like the actual thing. A first it was a little creepy, but then it was really cool.”
Linda, who like Evann wants to be a surgeon, said getting the opportunity to dissect animals and to learn how to suture gives her hands on experience that she might not otherwise get.
Hallena Bolden, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the after-school program has been a fun way to gain some experience in a field that she’s interested in. In fact, she was so impressed with the autopsy, that she’s thinking about also becoming a surgeon instead of a labor and delivery nurse.
“For anyone who doesn’t get to have this choice it is just going to be a loss,” she said.
Killilea echoed Hallena’s sentiment pointing out that nearly every student would be hurt without access to the many after-school programs that are currently offered.
“We all know that 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. is the most crucial time for students to have access to enriching programs,” she said. “Now more than ever, it is important to make sure our young leaders, our students feel safe, supported, and inspired.”