With a fresh round of state grants, Bedford County students next year could get a chance to go airborne.
School programs in Cambria and Bedford counties were promised around $473,000 total from the state grants, meant to aid before- and after-school activities for students considered "at risk" financially or academically.
And thanks to the money, one administrator said, Bedford County high school students will have access to a flight program including plane trips, among other after-school endeavors.
The grant provider - the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program - is a mouthful, but the idea is simple: The federal government has, since 2002, provided money to state education departments to be distributed competitively among schools and organizations serving at-risk youngsters.
"At-risk" is a broad term, encompassing students in poverty, those with emotional and learning problems and those in danger of dropping out, said Lyn Skillington, the Bedford County learning center's project director.
The projects in Bedford County benefited some 1,100 elementary, middle and high-school students last year, she said, not all of them considered at risk.
"We have a wide mix," Skillington said.
Bedford County's public school districts and the Hope for Hyndman charter school are set to share the $389,000, to be distributed over the next three years, she said.
Similar grant money earlier this year had allowed the county's Community Learning Centers to expand to serve students in grades two through 12.
"They do music, talent shows, rocket launches ... tutoring in science and technology," Skillington said.
In Cambria County, a nonprofit education contractor called Communities in Schools of the Laurel Highlands received more than $84,000 for the next three years.
The company's Laurel Highlands arm works with Penn Cambria, Central Cambria, Cambria Heights, Blacklick Valley and Northern Cambria school districts to implement tutoring, after-school and family programs, executive director Susan Sheehan said.
Described as a dropout-prevention program, Communities in Schools operates branches across the country.
Many other programs that utilize 21st Century grant money rely almost solely on those funds, Skillington said.
The federal "pass-through" money, of with nearly $20 million was distributed statewide in this grant round, goes through a lengthy regional selection process before it reaches students.
"In addition to academic programs, awardees may provide cultural, social or artistic activities to students, as well as services to the families of participants," state education officials said in a news release.
Each request is considered by a panel of educators and grant writers, who lump competitors by regions and then disburse money - in this case to 61 organizations, including community groups and school districts.
"[The Bedford program] depends entirely on federal funding," Skillington said.
And Sheehan said that, while money from the 21st Century program will keep her Cambria County operations humming for the next few years, overall funding for similar programs seems tighter than it did a few years ago.
"It's not as high as what it was in the past," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.