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Bennie Dover leaders welcome new funds for school programs

New London – Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Principal Alison Burdick has a knack for dreaming up big ideas that might benefit her students.

Meanwhile, middle school physical education teacher and after-school activities director Ed Sweeney is a strategic thinker with gift for motivating and inspiring.

Together the two have taken the lead of a successful team with a focus on providing for the school and more specifically after-school programs targeting students in need.

The latest example is the nearly $800,000 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will fund after-school and mentoring programs over the next five years.

Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School was awarded the funds to start the Summit After School Institute, or SASI, aimed at a wide range of after-school programs and activities, along with homework help and tutoring for high-need students.

Burdick also envisions extracurricular activities such as archery, kayaking, fencing and cooking coupled with a seven-week summer program offering language arts, math and fitness programs and field trips out into the community. Burdick said for students, specifically those without the financial means, it will provide new opportunities to participate in academic, cultural and recreational activities not otherwise available to them.

Everyone involved in an after-school program is also provided a meal – a partnership with Brigaid and the Chefs in Schools program.

It’s just one example of the collaborative work with the school district and partners out in the community, Burdick said.

Burdick said the programs would not be possible without the generosity of community partners and collaborators such as Connecticut College’s Community Partnerships, New England Science and Sailing Foundation, Center Plate at Ocean Beach, Child Nutrition of New London and STEPS - a group of New London County women who will provide a summer leadership program and women’s curricula for female students.

A representative from each organization is expected to serve on an advisory board.

The 21st Century grant will help to continue and expand on some programs the school has already undertaken over the past several years – programs like Summer Summit and Camp Rotary. Both were also grant funded.

The money is particularly important because of budget constraints. As opposed to magnet school programs operating at the school, most Bennie Dover students have not yet benefited from an influx of state magnet school funding. The students are presently in a leadership, language and culture pilot program.

“We are working on providing activities they normally would not receive,” Sweeney said. “The good thing is everybody’s coordinating their efforts for the benefit of the students.”

Sweeney said in addition to his work with Burdick, there is an overall team approach by school staff in gathering ideas.

“I have a good group of people around me I can tap into,” Sweeney said.

“Alison is the visionary. She comes up with ideas – some good some not so good - and we all brainstorm,” Sweeney said.

Burdick said Sweeney was “phenomenal at building community partnerships.”

They call each other coach – Sweeney because he is a former football coach and Burdick because “Sweeney calls everyone coach.”

The 21st Century grant come on the heels of some other successful financial awards to the middle school over the past month.

The school was awarded an $8,000 Community Foundation grant to support girls exposed to domestic violence and for programming for them. The school also secured a $56,000 grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund that will allow the school to partner with the Hempsted Houses and NAACP for programming related to topics such as the history of slavery in New London.

Bennie Dover received nearly $3 million last year to start up new programs - $247,000 from the Dalio Foundation for a “Teach to One” math-focused initiative and $2.5 million Full Services Community Schools grant in conjunction with Project Connect that allows the school to “expand the field of educational opportunities,” through partnerships with local organizations.



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