The Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and Arkansas State University's Childhood Services and its sponsored initiative, the Arkansas Out of School Network, have awarded $5.2 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) ESSER III grant funding to 44 afterschool, summer, and extended-year learning programs across the state.

The ESSER III federal relief funding was allocated to mitigate student learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and support social and emotional development. Awardees, which include school districts and community-based partnership programs such as public libraries, nonprofit organizations, career and technical programs, faith-based organizations, and institutions of higher learning, will utilize grant awards to address the academic impact of lost instructional time on student learning through evidence-based summer programs and comprehensive afterschool programs.

“Even before the pandemic disrupted all aspects of student life, Arkansas struggled to meet the demand for afterschool and summer learning programs. For every child in an afterschool program in Arkansas, three more are waiting to get in,” said Laveta Wills-Hale, network director of the Arkansas Out of School Network.

"The same is true for summer learning programs. In 2019, more than 26,000 additional children would have been enrolled in a program if one were available to them. 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," she said.

"This funding is a critical resource to communities and programs across our state, and we are grateful to the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for their partnership. “There is no doubt the pandemic has impacted student learning, but in order to assist students who have been affected the most, unified efforts of support are essential,” Dr. Ivy Pfeffer, DESE deputy commissioner, said. “These federal funds will help us build that support, as key educators, communities, and faith-based organizations will partner to accelerate student learning. Our students deserve the best despite the challenges we have faced, and these programs will reinforce the commitment and dedication to student learning we have seen over the last year and a half. I am excited to see the positive impact of these programs in the future.”

The 44 grant awards included the following South Arkansas program:

Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, Hot Springs, $26,235

Cathy's Sweet Dumplings Daycare and Preschool, Eudora, $100,258

Heart2Heart Connections, Wilmot, $121,830 High Impact Movement, Hot Springs, $149,999

Washington Foundation Lil' Jacob Learning Center, Eudora, $49,622

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