LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Dozens of new afterschool programs began this school year across the state to address learning loss still being felt post-pandemic.

To help kids get back on track the Arkansas Department of Education awarded more than 18 million dollars in American Rescue Plan funds over the last year to 84 summer and after-school programs.

In Searcy, this is the first time the district has organized its own program after-school program. It is currently helping 120 kids each weekday from 3:30 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.

When Oscar Monzon heard his parents signed him up for another two and a half hours of school, he had the reaction most kids would.

Reenacting his best jay drop, clenching his chest, and sighing, the fourth-grade student put on a positive performance though at the time his science grade and outlook were trending negative.

Searcy’s new after-school program turned him around. “When I came over here it turned out to be a miracle that I’d never had,” Oscar said.

Oscar and all his kindergarten through 6th grade classmates are in a program specifically made to help with COVID learning loss. For many students stepping stones like phoenix and multiplication became gaps in the educational journey. They were caused during remote learning by a lack of technology, instruction, or for Oscar added distraction.

“When trying to read a book, my mom cooking with the stove air, it drives me crazy, my sister turning on the TV, and my dad mowing the yard. It’s just a lot of different sounds that I can’t control in my mind with,” Oscar stated.

After School Director and 6th grade teacher at Westside Middle School Holly Haile explained, “They have a skill that they are missing, and we are trying to plug those skills and fix those holes so that they can go on and be successful.”

One hour each day is dedicated to homework assistance. The other is for broadening students’ horizons by bringing in the community to become involved. Firefighters, a planetarium, and even the Searcy High wrestling team are all past examples. Without visitors, time is substituted with other creative tasks.

“We’re trying to do our part in filling in those gaps as best as we can,” Haile said. “You can see them coming and getting of the bus and they are giving us hugs and high-fiving us, and they are excited to be here, and we are glad for that.”

Like the 84 other grant recipients, the district hopes the program can find a way to continue once the one year of federal funding ends in June.

Haile is certain of the program’s value seeing it in her own classroom and hearing it from parents. She urges, “It’s a program here to support our kids.”

“If I can’t concentrate at home, I really need this program,” Oscar said. “We just get behind. We need help.”

The $150,000 grant Searcy School District received is the max amount allotted this school year by the Arkansas ARP ESSER Ill Afterschool and Summer Learning Competitive Program. The program began July 1, 2021 and it will end December 30, 2024.

“Even before the pandemic disrupted all aspects of student life, Arkansas struggled to meet the demand for afterschool and summer learning programs,” said Laveta Wills-Hale, director of the Arkansas Out of School Network. “For every child in an afterschool program in Arkansas, three more are waiting to get in. We will continue working tirelessly to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and to ensure all children have access to quality afterschool and summer learning programs. This funding is a critical resource to communities and programs across our state, and we’ve been able to distribute $18.3 million over the past year through ARP ESSER Ill funds. We are grateful to the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for its partnership to ensure every child has access to quality afterschool and summer learning.”

The 28 new grant awards this school year include the following:

• Arkansas Connections Academy, Statewide

• Associated Industries of Arkansas, Statewide

• BGC Phillips Counts, West Helena

• Boys and Girls Club Texarkana

• Blessed Christian Ministries, Pulaski County

• Boy Scouts of America, Little Rock

• Bridge 2 Success, Little Rock

• Chance Change, Forrest City

• City Church of College Station -Youth Institute

• City of Hope Outreach, Conway

• Girl Scouts – Diamonds, Statewide

• Jamison Alexander Success Center, Mayflower

• Lakeside School District, Hot Springs

• Leap Forward, Jonesboro

• Mabelvale Middle School, Little Rock

• Mr. Mac’s Learning Center, North Little Rock

• Mumford and Associates, Little Rock

• Newport School District

• 7th Street Elementary, North Little Rock

• Palestine-Wheatly Elementary, Palestine

• Potter’s House 98, Fayetteville

• Russellville School District

• Saint Theresa School, Little Rock

• Searcy School District

• Sharing Love, North Little Rock

• Sheridan School District

• Truman School District

• Westwind, North Little Rock

The 56 continuation grant awards include the following:

• Aaron & Belinda International Ministry Inc., Pine Bluff

• Rural Community Alliance, Little Rock

• Applying Positive Touches LLC, Little Rock

• AR STEM Coalition, Little Rock

• Arkansas 4H Camps, Little Rock

• Arkansas Employment Career Center, Little Rock

• Arts and Science Center of SE Arkansas, Pine Bluff

• Bald Knob School District

• Boys and Girls Club AR River Valley, Russellville-

• Dardanelle

• Boys and Girls Club Cedar Mountain, Hot Springs

• Boys and Girls Club Central AR, Little Rock

• Boys and Girls Club Diamond Hills, Alma

• Boys and Girls Club El Dorado

• Boys and Girls Club Faulkner County

• Boys and Girls Club McGehee

• Boys and Girls Club Van Buren

• Big Brothers Big Sisters, North Little Rock

• Brandon House, Little Rock

• Carter’s Crew, North Little Rock

• Cathy’s Sweet Dumplings Daycare & Preschool, Eudora

• Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock

• City of Little Rock: West Central Summer STEAM

• City Youth Ministries, Jonesboro

• Clarendon School District

• Cutter Morning Star School District

• Danville School District

• Elkins School District

• Fordyce School District

• Four States Urban Development- Literacy Council,

• Texarkana

• Greenbrier School District

• Greenland School District

• Harrison School District

• Heart2Heart Connections, Wilmot

• High Impact Movement, Hot Springs

• Hispanic Community Services, Inc, Jonesboro

• House About It Community and Economic Development

• Little Rock

• Izard County Consolidated School District

• Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Little Rock

• Life Skills for Youth, Little Rock

• LISA Academy, Little Rock

• Mansfield Middle School, Mansfield

• Melbourne School District

• Mountain View School District

• One Community, Inc., Springdale

• Our House Shelter. Little Rock

• Ozark Guidance Arisa Health, Fayetteville

• Producing Outstanding People, Inc., Marion

• Pulaski County Youth Services-Afterschool

• Rogers School District

• Second Baptist Church, Little Rock

• SOAR NWA, Springdale

• Songbird Media, Little Rock

• Teen Action Support Center, Rogers

• Tendaji Community Development Corp., Little Rock

• Washington Foundation Lil’ Jacob Learning Center,

• Eudora

• We Care of Pulaski County