SeDoMoCha's after-school program will start again after winter break on Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Natasha Colbry

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Students will have more hands-on activities to choose from thanks to a $150,000 grant to boost an after-school program in Dover-Foxcroft.

The SeDoMoCha program for kindergarten through eighth grade began in 2021 as a way to provide students extra homework help after school. Many fell behind in their learning during the COVID-19 pandemic or they don’t have an adult home after school, so this was a solution, program director Natasha Colbry said.

The grant, from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, will allow school officials to bring more interactive offerings with the community to students. Federal funding for four years will keep the effort running, and the hope is that community support and strong relationships with partners like Northern Light Mayo Hospital and Monson Arts will ensure that it can continue in the long term, Colbry said.

A  negative connotation dogged after-school programs when the effort launched this summer, perhaps because other grant-funded area projects ended when funding dried up and people feared that happening again, Colbry said.

“We’re trying to turn around that attitude,” she said. “This is a good thing and we want to keep this.”

Funding has allowed the school to cover staffing, supplies and transportation for students outside of Dover-Foxcroft and could go toward larger equipment, Colbry said. One idea was to build a ropes course near the school, which school officials are considering.

Each year, the funding decreases: to $145,500 the second year, $141,000 the third year and $136,500 the fourth year. Organizers will need to find ways to make up the difference through fundraising and creative partnerships. The school will apply for other grants as well, Colbry said.

SeDoMoCha’s after-school program will start again after winter break on Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Natasha Colbry

About 70 students are on the roster now, and the program will wrap its first year in June. Attendance has been lower in the winter months, said Colbry, who started her job in October. She suspects low attendance is because there are fewer daylight hours and more students catching illnesses.

Officials want to serve 80 students throughout the school year, and for those who are low-performing, to increase their standardized testing scores by 10 percent, Colbry said. The school will compare Northwest Evaluation Association scores from the fall and spring.

Goals focus on six key areas: academic improvement, health and wellness, educational enrichment like STEAM and college readiness, family engagement, sustainability and collaboration, and professional development for staff.

Generally, leaders break students into four groups based on grade levels. They enjoy a snack and recess and then gather for several activities. This looks different for some of the older students who come for homework help and tutoring, Colbry said.

Northern Light Mayo Hospital might provide a lesson on substance use prevention and nutrition one day, and a librarian from the Thompson Free Library will read to students the next.

When students return from winter break in January, sessions with partners including Piscataquis Regional YMCA, the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society and University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Piscataquis are scheduled. Other partners include the Center Theatre, Monson Arts and the Piscataquis County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Students will learn about local history from those who run the historical society and participate in a cooking class with Cooperative Extension, Colbry said.

“I’m always trying to keep my ears and eyes open for different collaborations that we can pull in because there are more opportunities that way,” she said, especially in terms of exposing students to various careers and getting them thinking about their futures.

Students attending SeDoMoCha and homeschooled children are eligible to participate. The free program runs from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Bus transportation is available to those from towns that surround Dover-Foxcroft, such as Charleston, Monson and Sebec.

The program is accepting applications for volunteers and paid support staff. Those interested should contact Colbry at ncolbry@sedomocha.org.