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New after-school program for northern Carroll County middle schools gets commissioners' approval

Elijah Jones, center, plays video games with junior staffer Isaac Jones, left, and intern Breon Herbert at the Boys and Girls Club's Westminster location April 9, 2018. The club will implement a pilot after-school program for middle school students in northern Carroll County.
Elijah Jones, center, plays video games with junior staffer Isaac Jones, left, and intern Breon Herbert at the Boys and Girls Club's Westminster location April 9, 2018. The club will implement a pilot after-school program for middle school students in northern Carroll County. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

The Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to fund a pilot after-school program for middle school students in northern Carroll County.

The commissioners voted unanimously to award a $131,746 contract to the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster to provide suicide and substance use prevention programming — along with recreation and academic support —after school, three days a week, at Northwest and North Carroll middle schools.

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“This is a time I think we can really make a difference in kids’ lives,” Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said of the middle school program at Thursday’s meeting.

The funding for the program will come out of the $300,000 the commissioners included in their FY20 budget for the Not in Carroll initiative, which funds programs designed to combat and prevent drug addiction in the county. The commissioners also voted Thursday to allocate $135,000 in Not in Carroll funding to support a call center for the Mobile Crisis Team now operating under a contract with the Carroll County Health Department.

While the Boys and Girls Club will implement the after-school program, the idea was conceived and prioritized by the Carroll County Opioid Senior Policy Group, of which the Carroll County Health Department is a member. The health department developed the plan and proposal for the after-school program as a way to address at-risk youth in parts of the county where additional support was the most needed, Health Officer Ed Singer told the board at Thursday’s meeting.

“We talked with the sheriff and the State’s Attorney’s Office about where they felt we had the most at-risk youth. We also talked to some of our nonprofit partners,” Singer said. “The first priorities were that Hampstead/Manchester area and the Taneytown area.”

The program will be more than just a prevention curriculum, however, and it will also offer recreation, mentorship and homework support, according to Maggie Kunz, a health department health planner who was also present at Thursday’s meeting. The program would be open to any student at those schools that wanted to participate, though teachers and counselors could recommend students they thought would be appropriate, she said, and students would not have to attend all three days per week.

The program will begin in October, according to Kunz.

If the pilot program is successful, according to the plan drawn up by the health department, the program would then expand to Sykesville and Mount Airy middle schools in the second year, and Shiloh and Oklahoma Road middle schools in the third year (students at those two schools would be transported to the other schools to participate in the program).

“Middle schools in the Westminster area are being served by the Boys and Girls Club,” Singer said. “This would effectively hit the rest of the middle schools we have in the county if we were to build it out over two to three years.”

The cost of the program would increase if expanded in the second year, rising to $221,710, and in the third year, rising to $225,071.

Keeping costs in mind, the health department had also created a three-year plan based on a twice-weekly after-school program, Kunz said, which would have run $96,014 to operate at Northwest and North Carroll middle schools, and $197,192 and $222,316 with the planned expansions in the second and third years.

That difference in cost initially had commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, considering a twice-weekly program instead of three days a week.

“It’s much easier to expand from a pilot than to go the opposite way,” he said at the meeting.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, was also skeptical of starting with a three-day-a-week program.

“My only problem here is typically when you do a pilot program, we do it entry level,” he said at the meeting. “That would be the only reason I would not be in favor of jumping ahead.”

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Ultimately, however, the board voted in favor of the three-day program.

“I understand the cost associated with increasing from two to three days,” Rothstein said. “There is more risk in not doing something than in doing something.”

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