BENNINGTON -- The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union has learned that its application to renew its Century 21 Learning Grant has been denied.
The grant, which the schools had received for the past five years, funded the MOSAIC after-school program at Mount Anthony Union Middle School, the Molly Stark School, and Bennington Elementary. The MOSAIC program has previously run 120 days of after-school programming during the school year, and a four-week program in the summer. Bob Marine, SVSU's director of after-school and summer programming, said that in this year's grant request, the school had hoped to increase those numbers to 128 days during the year and five weeks during the summer.
According to Maureen O'Neil, Southern Vermont food service director for the Abbey Group, which provides school lunches across the SVSU, as well as lunch during the summer MOSAIC program and snacks during the after-school program, the MOSAIC program saw between 250-300 children fed each day last summer.
"My concern, as a food service administrator, is that the children get fed," she said, "the whole thing is terrible for our community."
Mount Anthony Union Middle School Principal Tim Payne said that he, MAUMS MOSAIC director Chris Maguire, and SVSU chief financial officer Rick Pembroke had planned for this possibility, and had asked for some money to be put aside in the FY15 budget to fund the program should the grant request fail. However, the money put aside is considerably less than would have been available through the grant. "I anticipate, since we didn't get the grant, that the summer program will be reduced," said Payne, who noted that finding a way to fund the summer program was his top priority right now, as that program is tentatively scheduled to begin after the Fourth of July. "We will be offering something during the school year," he said, "but it will also be reduced."
Payne said that one important aspect of the program for which funding has yet to found is the bus that takes students home after the after-school program. "It's really important for kids who live in Shaftsbury, or Pownal, or even Bennington," he said, "Without a ride home, a lot of kids might not be able to participate in the program."
Payne said that the middle school is working with the Abbey Group and several local community service groups to make the program happen. Earlier this year, the MOSAIC program funded the Molly Stark School's performance of "The Wizard of Oz." As with the middle school, it is currently unclear what the fate of the program will be at the elementary schools.
At the end of March, Marine spoke before the SVSU board, and expressed cautious optimism that the grant request would be approved. While acknowledging that it was a highly competitive grant, he said, "I'm really excited about it. I think it's going to go, and I think it's going to go well." Marine spoke to the importance of the program to the community, saying, "[The state] feels this area is in need of a program like MOSAIC. They believe the program is doing good work."
O'Neil said that the MOSAIC program gives many students access to meals during the summer that they wouldn't otherwise have. According to statistics from Hunger Free Vermont, one in five children in Bennington County are food insecure. O'Neil has been reached out to local organizations to find groups will to host local feeding sites for children. Any group who is interested in learning more about hosting a site can contact her at 802-373-6457, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In past years, the program has performed numerous community services projects throughout Bennington. In July 2012, students from the MOSAIC program painted the alleyway between Carmody's and Star Electric on Main Street, and worked with Meals on Wheels to decorate cookies for veterans. Students also volunteered at Lake Paran, where they sanded and painted picnic tables.
"They should do more things in school to teach kids it's not all about you," said Brittany Belville, who was, at the time, about to enter seventh grade, "It's about other people that don't get anything."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB