Media Archive

Regional education program lost after federal budget cut

Article from Bangor Daily News, Saturday, May 13, 2006

By Diana Bowley
Staff Writer

MILO - After having spent much of the morning on a recent day studying, Allison Marino left her seat in an SAD 41 classroom and walked next door to where her 2-year-old daughter was engaged in learning activities in another classroom.

Lifting her daughter into the air, Marino, 25, of LaGrange planted a kiss on Molly's cheek, grabbed a children's book and headed for a rocking chair where mother and child shared quality time for the next few minutes.

Having dropped out of Penquis Valley High School in the ninth grade for medical reasons, Marino said it took all the courage she could muster to return to school. Her return likely would never have occurred without Even Start, a program that encompasses parenting skills, early childhood education, and adult literacy or adult basic education under one umbrella, she said.

"This program has been a real big deal to me," she said. "Not only am I excited and thrilled that I finally have my diploma, but it's also a task I promised my mother I would do when she died almost a year ago."

But the program isn't going to be there any longer.

Because of a cutback in federal program funds from about $1 million to about $500,000, state education officials closed three of the state's eight Even Start centers.

In addition to the regional program operated in Milo by SADs 41 (Milo) and 68 (Dover-Foxcroft), centers in Lewiston and Farmington also were closed.

The reduction in Even Start funding creates difficulties for families who depend on the program to help them improve their literacy skills so they can be more effective participants in school, at work and in the community, Becky Dyer, state director of adult education and family literacy, said Thursday.

Even Start is the only family literacy program that serves both parent and child together, according to Dyer. Not only do parents receive the literacy help they need to get their general equivalency or adult education diplomas, but teachers also work with the children to help them improve their developmental skills.

Dyer said the program has been so successful in helping break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy that a national effort is under way to get the funds reinstated.

Locally, educators and administrators also are working to salvage the program, according to Thelma Regan, adult education director for SADs 4, 41 and 68.

The budget for the regional program this year was $120,000, which covered the salaries of four teachers - two full-time and two part-time - and other expenses. The program also received in-kind support from local agencies.

"We do know it's a valuable program, and we're not just going to forget about it because we have no funds; we are going to investigate other ways to fund this type of program," she said.

Regan said learning disabilities in children enrolled in Even Start are recognized and addressed, which prompts an earlier intervention that saves school districts money over the years.

For Marino and other young mothers who could afford neither transportation outside the region nor child care, the program has been a miracle, according to Diane Curran, the region's Even Start coordinator. This year, 16 families and 30 children received literacy help, she said.

"The majority of the students have made gains," Curran said this week.

For Kim Royal, 24, of Milo, that gain is pronounced.

It not only has given her the education she needs to live a productive life and help her children through their school years, but it also has given her confidence, she said this week.

"I just think it's going to be a shame it's not going to be here for other mothers who need it," Royal said.

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NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.