Since 2014, Westbrook Intercultural Community Center (ICC) has offered Power School afterschool and summer learning programs to hundreds of children in Southern Maine. After taking advantage of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program through the U.S. Department of Education they were able to stabilize funding and improve efforts in a way they never thought possible.
“The 21st Century grant has been huge for us,” said Chris Feely, 21st CCLC Program Director at ICC. “We had previously been living grant to grant, so to speak.” The consistent funding and professional support enabled the Westbrook Intercultural Community Center to expand their staff with qualified individuals, coordinate programming efforts with the local middle school, and cement themselves as a stable resource in the community. From there, Chris says building those important community connections has been the critical component to allowing them to spread awareness and appreciation for the work they are doing in the Southern Maine area.
“We have had over 50 students join the afterschool program this fall,” said Chris. “Our outreach has been so successful that, for the first time ever, we have had to create a waiting list for registered students to enter the program.”
Students learn about their program through word of mouth, which is often within local immigrant communities in the area. The Center also engages in purposeful and coordinated outreach with the Westbrook School Department.
“Specifically, we work with the middle school to identify low-performing students, and then make phone calls directly to parents and guardians promoting our program,” explained Chris.
Regular communication and twice-a-month meetings with school and district administrators Principal Laurie Wood and Superintendent Peter Lancia ensure that updates and needs that support both the program as a whole and for individual students are discussed on a regular basis.
“Central to our collaboration is promoting equity among students, as most of our students are immigrant or first-generation Americans and low-income,” added Chris. “We work with Amanda Atkinson-Lewis, the Equity Resources Coordinator, on identifying ways to support students and have developed a strong relationship with the School Nutrition Director, Mary Emerson, to secure healthy and diverse snacks for our students every day after school.”
Operating During the Pandemic:
Chris recounts that their year-long remote program which took place at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic from April 2020- to June 2021 had some wonderful highlights and enabled them to accessibly reach many new students.
“Kids could log on every day after school, participate in a brief lesson, and take their time getting homework help in virtual breakout rooms,” said Chris. “The need for academic as well as emotional support became clear, as many students opened up to teachers or would stay to chat after they had completed their homework. We felt closer to our students than ever before.”
While this was a silver lining to the new way the Center had to operate, like many schools and afterschool programs, they came to understand that remote learning did not fit everyone’s strengths or needs and morphed their program to a hybrid model.
“Our hybrid summer program experienced much larger attendance on in-person days, and I think that speaks to the innate need for kids to run around, socialize, and interact,” added Chris.
Although keeping the Center successful has been a lot of hard work, especially with all of the changes that have come as a result of the pandemic, the Intercultural Community Center team strives to make a difference in the lives of students in their community. When asked what the best thing is about working with the students he serves, here is what Chris had to say:
“Far and away, it’s the moments when you see that you’ve made a positive impact on a child. It makes all the planning and day-to-day tumult worth it– when a single mother tells us we’ve saved her daughter’s academic performance after they could no longer afford to pay her tutor; or when a 10-year-old girl who, a month ago, escaped threats on her life in Kabul, is seen laughing with friends and tells us that she loves Power School.”