After-School Programs On the Line

by Ashton Killilea, Student Affairs Manager

This month, the Connecticut General Assembly considers Governor Malloy’s proposal for a new state budget. One thing that’s on the line: the State After-School Grant Program, which funds opportunities outside of school hours at Common Ground and other public schools across the state. The governor’s budget consolidates this program with other ones that provide wrap-around supports to our state’s students — including Family Resource Centers and neighborhood youth centers — and slashes funding for these programs by half. Ashton Killilea, who runs after-school programs at Common Ground, knows from her own experience how much programs like these matter — and how cuts to these programs will impact our students. She was moved to share the testimony below with state legislators. If you agree with Ashton that these programs matter, please email Representative Toni Walker, who represents New Haveen and co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, and reach out to your local representatives.

Ashton Killilea, Student Affairs Manager, can speak first-hand about the value of after-school programs in helping young people thrive and succeed.

Dear Sen. Catherine Osten, Sen. Paul Formica, Rep. Toni Walker, and Appropriations Committee Members,

I am reaching out to urge you to make sure we fight for full funding in a separate line item for the state After School Grants Program in the Department of Education budget.

A little back story about my experience with After School Programs 20 years ago. I remember like it was yesterday. I was 11 years old, sitting in the Salvation Army after school van. Mina the head teacher was driving me home from the program. This was not something she had to do, but she did it so I could attend the program. For this I will forever be thankful.  Mina was 4 foot 11 inches tall, Hispanic, smart, and beautiful. She sang, and she sang loud — not the best voice, but she was proud. I looked up to her in a way I hadn’t looked up to anyone before. She helped me with homework, we played board games, we talked; she was my mentor. She did what she could — and then some — for a 6-student after-school program in a small Salvation Army space. I didn’t know this until a few years later, but Mina helped my mother find resources for Christmas gifts and food for us. She was more than just the person who helped me with my homework or play board games. She was strong, helpful and she wanted me to help change the world. She made me feel all the things that prior to this program I didn’t feel. She made me feel safe, supported and valued every day.

Fast forward 20 years. I am a first generation college graduate, and I am now the Student Affairs Manager at a New Haven charter school. I manage all student choice, leadership and after school programs. I have no doubt my relationship with Mina guided me to be in the position I am today — guiding and encouraging our students, supporting our students, making them feel safe and valued.

Common Ground would not be Common Ground without the after school programs that we are able to provide thanks to state funding. After school programs are no longer just board games and homework help. Classes that are not typically offered during the school day happen in our after school program. Students who don’t get art or music in their school day schedule get to pursue their love for these subjects after school.

For some of our struggling learners, after school is where these students feel success — and these are successes they are proud of. They are able to ask questions, understand what’s happening at their own pace, and not be afraid they are wrong or worry about testing. They are gaining the knowledge they crave to learn, not what they have to learn.

Our high school basketball team plays in the small school New Haven league. For some of these students, playing basketball is the driving force that makes them come to school every day.

Students in Business of Art screen print a t-shirt.

More than 127 students take advantage of our after school programs weekly. All 195 of our students rely on after school time not only for enrichment, but also for additional academic supports and use of computers and internet. Without full funding some of these programs won’t be able to happen. How do I as a manager pick which programs go or stay, knowing that every student at Common Ground would suffer without access to these programs day in and day out? We all know that out of school time hours between 3 and 6pm are the most crucial time for students to have access to enriching programs. With the fears that now surround our country, it is more important than ever to make sure our young leaders, our students, remain having access to make sure they continue to feel safe, feel valued and feel supported. Please continue to FULLY support our students.

You can read more about Common Ground’s after-school programs on our blog and in the New Haven Independent. Please contact your state legislators. And please share your story of how after-school programs made a difference in your life below!


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