The Saratoga Sun -

What happened to The Hub?

After 10 years of serving local children, after-school location closes its doors. What happens next?

 

September 18, 2019

Joshua Wood

The lights at The Hub, which was operated by Big Brothers Big Sisters, are off and the doors are locked, leaving a space to fill in Saratoga.

It was not an uncommon sight to see bicycles parked at 106 W. Bridge Avenue in Saratoga throughout the summer, after school and on Fridays. Since 2009 the location had served as the home of The Hub and was operated by the Greater Wyoming Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), which has six locations throughout the greater Wyoming area and serves most of the state. Despite a decade of serving the Saratoga community, the doors of The Hub have closed just as the school year has begun.

"We first started serving Carbon County more than ten years ago when there was a big statewide push in grant funding to work on underage substance abuse, drinking, tobacco and suicide. That's when we initially got contacted because, at the time, the funding was heavily tied to only being allowed to use evidence-based practices," said Steve Hamaker, Chief Executive Officer of Great Wyoming BBBS. "Back then, the list of evidence-based practices was pretty short and Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring was one of those things. So, we got the phone call from Sally Patton and started working with her on what the community needs were."

The foundation of The Hub was not immediate. The first attempt at BBBS making an impact in Carbon County was with their traditional mentoring programs. These were not successful as the program was severely lacking in volunteers.

"We kind of took a breather and stepped back and looked at it and looked at the needs assessment and the discussion at the time was that the kids needed a safe place and better supervision during the out-of-school hours," said Hamaker.

Around this time, Carbon County was seeing a rise in experimentation with alcohol and illicit substances among students. At the same time, the State of Wyoming was blending funding between the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE). The grants, which operate on a five-year cycle, were originally focused on providing safe places and alternative activities for communities.

"The prevention substance abuse funding was blended with the after school and so it was acceptable and okay at that time to open an after school center using those funds in an effort to provide a safe place for kids to go," Hamaker said. "Over time, the state unbraided that funding and separated it. The, Department of Health took over the substance abuse prevention funding and then the after school funding was in the Department of Education."

According to Hamaker, as the original funding the Greater Wyoming BBBS used to establish The Hub separated, the requirements for those grants changed as the WDE took over the funding used for the after-school program to establish 21st Century Learning Centers. The original intention of The Hub as a fun and safe place for children to attend following school was replaced with more of an educational focus.

"What we became more and more accountable for was demonstrating that what we were doing during that after school time was aligned with the districts needs as far as reading and math scores. The social, emotional skills was also a big part of it," said Hamaker. "There's some overlap between the two different directions, but during that first five-year cohort of those grants there was a shift and so we shifted along with it."

That shift required Greater Wyoming BBBS to purchase curriculum and supplies, along with training and tools available across the state.

"That was mostly successful that first round, to the point that when we were up for the new one, we got another five years of funding straight from the Department of Education," Hamaker said.

The second round of grant funding was a bit more difficult for The Hub as the accountability and reporting changed to require more focus on grades and academic scores. While the beginning of the second cycle saw BBBS have some success with being able to meet the accountability required by the WDE, the need for finding workforce put a strain on the organization. The preference by WDE for certified educators overseeing after-school programs put BBBS in competition with Carbon County School District No. 2 (CCSD2) for employees.

"We kept in pretty close communication with the state and they've been aware of some of our challenges all the way through. Sarah Lincoln did a fantastic job of meeting our requirements and keeping us compliant," said Hamaker. "As we reached the end of the grant, we all stepped back and said, 'Okay, this would probably be a much stronger program if it was like other after-school programs that we work with in the state, which really involves putting them in the schools or at least having the schools manage them."

According to Hamaker, BBBS reached out to several people in the community and informed them that the organization would not be reapplying for the grant. The CEO of Greater Wyoming BBBS added that it was believed that the after-school program would be better housed with the school district due to the eligibility and compliance requirements.

"We're just closing the after school portion. Our perspective, too, is that's not traditionally what Big Brothers Big Sisters does," Hamaker said. "That's more Boys and Girls Club or school districts and we just finally had to admit that we don't have the expertise that's needed to try and manage that kind of a program, especially from a distance."

While Hamaker felt that an after-school program using the 21st Century Learning Center funding would be better utilized by CCSD2, the district has not applied for the grant, which was due to the WDE on Aug. 30. According to CCSD2 Superintendent Jim Copeland, the grant was suggested as something that the school district or the Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) could look into applying for. So BOCES Director Brekke Munks began researching the grant.

While Munks was gathering information on the grant, Copeland said he was contacted by someone from WDE who informed him that it was "highly doubtful" that anybody who submitted an application with just two weeks remaining before the deadline could receive grant funding for the 21st Century Learning Center.

"They have a process, they asked about who's interested back in April so they could prioritize those funds. Those funds are prioritized to low income districts, districts with high free and reduced lunch programs," said Copeland. "We are not in the lowest, or highest, priority. So, depending on who applies, that's not to say we couldn't get a grant, but we might not if there were a lot of the other districts that had a higher free or reduced lunch percentage than we did."

Copeland stated that the contact from WDE informed him she was willing to speak with the BOCES board and answer any questions they had should the district decided to apply.

"Our BOCES board, the questions they would have ... is this a venture that the school wants to take responsibility for? It's something totally different than BOCES has done in the past. Of course, it's a whole responsibility of supervision, a plan for what we're doing, where it's going to be held, how can it fit," Copeland said. "One of the other issues that comes up as far as a district becoming involved; how broad is this? If we're going to apply for this as a BOCES, are we including Encampment and Hanna? Do we need to set up something district wide? Again, there's just a lot of questions that have to be considered as far as district involvement."

While the district considers its options in regards to filling the vacuum left by the closure of The Hub, Hamaker says the Greater Wyoming BBBS is taking its time vacating the building at 106 W. Bridge. According to the CEO, the organization has been waiting to see if somebody else would pick up the after-school program.

"We weren't sure if the district applied if they would want the space. We're kind of trying to spread the word and see if anybody else is interested in filling some of those gaps, but eventually we'll have to vacate it," said Hamaker.

Due to the use of funding from the 21st Century programs to purchase equipment and supplies, BBBS cannot simply give the items away. While the funding is granted by WDE, the funding itself comes from the federal level and there are certain requirements in regards to how to disperse equipment purchased with those funds.

"Anything that was bought with the 21st Century funds, the rules require us to first offer it to other 21st Century programs. So, our intention was to hang onto it and, if the district was awarded a grant, we'd hand it all over," Hamaker said. "Now, it's my understanding that the district is thinking they might wait a year and we won't be allowed to store it that long. We are waiting until the next round of grants are awarded later this month and we will talk to the state about if they want us to offer some of that stuff to anybody new."

Hamaker, however, is hoping that BBBS would be able to keep the supplies and equipment as local as possible so it can support local children.

"Federal rules are really built for big expensive equipment, usually with a $5,000 threshold, and there really isn't anything there that we bought worth that much," said Hamaker. "We're kind of hoping it doesn't fall under some of those restrictions, but even supplies and some of those things we still have to get permission before we just open the doors and say 'Come get what you want.'"

This is a developing story. The Saratoga Sun will bring you information as it becomes available.

 

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