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Council Hopes Tutoring Program Change Will Increase Use



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A change to an American Rescue Plan funded tutoring program to increase its usage by removing income restrictions has received approvals from the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, and the Legislative Council.

The council discussed the change at length at its September 6 meeting, noting that removing the income requirements was necessary because enrollment had been low. Out of a $100,000 appropriation, only $1,000 to $2,000 had been spent.

Councilman Ryan Knapp said that a fellow councilman, William DeRosa, had expressed concerns prior to the original appropriation that placing so much onus on parents to prove they met income requirements might deter some people whose children could have benefitted from the tutoring program, and “that bore out, unfortunately.”

The tutoring program is meant to help students affected by learning loss after remote schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The thought to the income requirement originally was to direct funds to parents least able to afford tutoring or other help on their own, but unfortunately enrollment has been low.

Board of Education Grants Coordinator Judit DeStefano reported at an earlier meeting that recruitment for the tutoring program had been limited due to problems making the public aware of its availability.

The first attempt to push the program through faculty and staff was limited by ALICE stipulations, and a second attempt at advertising the program only brought in eight students.

Knapp said that he felt the spirit of the ARP funds was to be used for COVID-related items, such as air quality projects, or some towns have used funds for assistance to small businesses. But he felt businesses also received plenty of help through PPP funds and other assistance. Some towns used funding in ways he “had a hard time squaring with the spirit” of the ARP.

Knapp felt that the one group hit the hardest was students, due to learning loss from staying home during the pandemic and taking remote classes.

“Disproportionately affected were kids of lower income, with no stay-at-home parents, they fell behind more,” said Knapp. “Lots of kids who fell behind during schooling from home are those with learning disabilities. This money can be used to catch them up.”

Knapp expressed some disappointment because when the program was initially described to the council, the district “said that the teachers knew the students who needed this the most.”

“It didn’t seem to happen that way,” said Knapp.

Knapp said he supported the motion, as he personally knew “lots of kids who are struggling and behind.”

Board member Matt Mihalcik said it was “tough to identify the students” who could qualify and that it was also “tough to get those people to utilize the service and know what the requirements are.”

“I’m sure there are many who could have used the program but did not want to jump through hoops providing the proof of income requirements,” said Mihalcik.

Councilmen expressed concerns on how to get the word out to parents. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said information went out in emails initially, and he said more emails would be sent.

Councilman Charlie Gardner said that emails from the district can come “fast and furious” so the schools should consider other ways to promote the program.

Knapp said he hoped that teachers would identify students who are struggling or behind.

“My sister is a fourth grade teacher, she knows which kids are behind, and which are not at grade level,” said Knapp. “She’s teaching fourth grade, but if a kid is essentially a second grader, it is hard to catch them up.”

Knapp believed teachers would be incentivized to identify kids for the tutoring program as it would “help the class as a whole” if the whole class could be “taught at grade level.”

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said that all ARP appropriations must be made by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. If enrollment in the tutoring program does not increase, the town has until late 2024 to decide if it needs to claim the money back and use it for something else.

DeRosa said the schools have “been doing a fantastic job” catching students up even without the tutoring program. DeRosa said he has a child at Head of Meadow and they got his child caught up.

“We might end up reappropriating this money,” said DeRosa.

The town still has $231,294 remaining in available ARP funds out of its $7.5 million grant. The ARP Workgroup is currently hearing from a pickleball organization about building pickleball courts at the Fairfield Hills campus. It remains to be seen if they recommend that for an appropriation to the BOS, BOF, and council.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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