State dollars to fund city after-school programs

Funds for after-school programs for two New Haven high schools have come largely through the influence of mayoral candidate Toni Harp ARC ’78.
Funds for after-school programs for two New Haven high schools have come largely through the influence of mayoral candidate Toni Harp ARC ’78. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

After-school programs at two New Haven high schools, ranging from band to robotics to a graffitti club, received a major boost this week with the announcement of a series of state grants.

The grants, part of a state-wide effort to improve after-school programming, came out of funds in the budget passed by the General Assembly last spring. They will span 26 programs in 18 communities, totaling $8,490,000 in funding. New Haven’s Common Ground High School — a charter high school, urban farm and environmental education center — and the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School received grants of $161,338 and $376,502, respectively.

The funds, which school leaders said will play a major role in the programs’ continuance, came to the city largely through the influence of mayoral candidate Toni Harp ARC ’78, who chairs the State Senate Appropriations Committee.

“This funding lets us offer above-and-beyond supports to our students, outside of school hours, to build on their school day experiences,” Common Ground Development Director Joel Tolman said. “There is a huge amount we could not offer our students if it were not for these grant programs.”

At Common Ground High School, the funds will help support a wide array of programming in the after-school program Above and Beyond, in which a majority of the school’s 185 students participate, according to Ashton Killilea, who organizes the program. Students can participate in activities that span both the conventional and nontraditional, such as playing in a band, dancing and painting murals.

Tobman, who wrote the school’s grant application, said that the funds, which the school has also received in the past, make up for a significant gap in funding. Common Ground, according to Tobman, needs to raise approximately $3,000 per student each year, in addition to municipal, state and federal funding, to provide “the level of education that we believe our students deserve.”

Similarly, the Co-op After School program, part of the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, makes use of the funds to offer a similarly diverse set of programs, which this term number 37. CAS is a collaboration between Yale, Dwight Hall, the Shubert Theater and the high school, although Dwight Hall organizers wrote the grant that resulted in the funds.

Individual programs seek the grants on an annual basis through a competitive application process, which is frequently helped along by state legislators from different communities. Killilea, who spent significant time in Hartford this year pushing for the grant to come to Common Ground, said that Harp played an integral role in delivering the funds.

“I wrote many emails, pleading, ‘Please don’t take our funding from us,’” Killilea said. “She would always respond back and say she’s fighting for us.”

Like every decision made by mayoral candidates Harp and Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, some discussion has already turned to the grants’ potential impact on the race. Harp has built her campaign on the foundation of her experience and personal ties in Hartford, which Harp communications director Patrick Scully emphasized when he said that voters ought to take the grants as evidence of the potential of Harp’s connections.

“You can be sure that any state grant that comes to New Haven has Sen. Harp’s fingerprints on it,” Scully said. “Voters should take a hard look at the fact that Sen. Harp … will have these personal relationships with people in Hartford.”

Although municipalities across the state applied for the grants, urban communities received much of the funding. New Haven, Stamford, Bridgeport and the greater Hartford area took in 9 of the 26 grants and 32 percent of the total funds.

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