Seedlings receive $15K grant

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BENNINGTON — The Seedlings program has received an Economic Justice grant from the Ben and Jerry's Foundation to further their goals of providing educational opportunities for low-income students in Bennington.

Now in its fourth year, the Seedlings program provides after-school programming for small "pods" of six to eight students, who typically stick together throughout their elementary school careers. Pods are now in operation at both Bennington Elementary and Molly Stark Elementary. This year, the program expanded to 22 students.

"Raising awareness of the value of programs such as Seedlings is important, but equally important is having the dollars to make the program sustainable," said Elaine Haytko, co-chair of the Seedling's Advisory Board. "We are deeply indebted to the Ben and Jerry's Foundation for seeing the potential of the Seedlings Program."

During the 2016-2017 school year, the program provided students with a collective 1,413 hours of programming divided between divided between creative play, community connections, and individual tutoring.

"Seedlings provides consistent programming to build academic skill and social skills, creativity, and resiliency through one-on-one academic tutoring, enrichment activities to explore and enhance creativity and opportunities to observe and practice appropriate behaviors," according to the organization. "We strive to build community awareness and support around the issues of childhood poverty in Bennington. Our goals are to increase self-confidence and habits associated with academic and life success through consistent, one-on-one interactions with adult volunteers. By being fun, nurturing and supportive, children choose to engage in the program."

The program collaborates with the Tutorial Center for academic and administrative support, and with community partners such as the Bennington Museum, the Bennington Free Library, and One World Conservation Center for enrichment and programming.

State testing results continue to show a large gap between students from low-income families and everyone else. "The achievement gaps between our vulnerable youth and students with greater privilege remain, and in some cases were narrowed, but this was largely a result of score declines for more privileged groups," said state Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe in September, after the 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test scores were released.

The Ben and Jerry's Foundation, which describes itself as a social justice organization, was founded in 1985, the same time its parent company, Ben and Jerry's Homemade Inc., became publicly traded.

"Our interests are in furthering social justice, protecting the environment and supporting sustainable food systems," reads the organization's website, benandjerrysfoundation.org. "We are committed to supporting non-violent, thoughtful and strategic approaches that are utilizing grassroots organizing strategies to work for social change."

The grant winners are decided by committees made up of Ben and Jerry's employees.

According to the foundation, "The Vermont Economic Justice Grant Program supports Vermont-based organizations helping to alleviate the impacts of poverty and work toward social, environmental and economic justice in the state of Vermont."

The Seedlings program relies on the support of the community to function, and while the Ben and Jerry's grant represented a large portion of their $25,000 goal for this year, they are still looking for support. To learn more about the Seedlings program, visit their website at seedlingsprogram.com.

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB

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