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By Sigrid Olson

Potomac School Explorers Program Terminating


January 18, 2018

POTOMAC - This spring when school is out, the Potomac School Explorers program, as it currently exists, will end due to loss of funding from the 21st Century Grant. A core group of impacted families are working together to find solutions to continue a Friday enrichment program.

Potomac School has utilized 21st Century Grant funds since 2013. They dedicated the funds to programs outside of the classroom including paid staff, training, materials, programming needs, etc. Explorers teacher Crissina Quinn and school para-professionals are running the program for the 2017-2018 school year.

Potomac School Principal John Rouse attended a meeting regarding the 21st Century Grant in Helena in August. There he learned the process of funding used for the Explorers program had changed.

“At that meeting, it was announced that the manner in which 21st Century Grant funds would be distributed beginning with the grant cycle for 2018-19 had been changed as a result of the federal government’s changes to how entitlement funds such as Title I and 21st Century grant funds would be allocated,” said Rouse.

The grant is now more competitive, being determined by the percentage of economically disadvantaged students leaving Potomac not ranked among the school districts with greater needs.

To maintain the program for next year, Rouse initially suggested teams of teachers could possibly take on the program. He reached out to similarly scheduled four day/week schools to see what their fifth day programs are like. Rouse found that while some Friday programs don’t exist, others are funded through donations and grants.

Rouse stated that there are no grants available for the Explorers program “as we know it.”

“I specifically asked the OPI staff person who is responsible for the 21st Century grant programs in Montana whether or not a program that provided services on non-instructional day (Fridays for four-day week schools) would be eligible for consideration under the new competitive grant structure and she replied that it would not be eligible for funding,” he said.

When Potomac School implemented the four-day school week the fall of 2012, one of the identified benefits was the Friday program. It offered educational, enriching and staff-supervised activities for students on that fifth day.

“They [the four day school week and Friday program] support each other and make the school what it is; this relationship provides for Potomac families in important ways,” said parent and community member Tom Brown.

Some families utilize the program because both parents work Fridays and their children can have hands on learning to explore and some prefer their children be exposed to activities like rock climbing, field trips and crafts that they otherwise would not do.

Parent and community member Michelle Dunn has two children that attend Explorers. She and her husband both work on Fridays and feel the program is really amazing due to the great speakers and offered experiences.

Because Potomac does not have any childcare or daycare available, parent and community member Lacey Van Grinsven feels some parents will be in “a real pickle” with the program loss. She said most daycares in Missoula require you to be on a wait list for months, and most don’t allow for enrollment only one day a week. 

Van Grinsven hopes for future consideration from the board with decisions that will have a huge and lasting effect on some Potomac families.

“Losing the program would put a huge amount of responsibility on the school to incorporate some similar opportunities,” said Brown.

Brown said, “As parents, we are determined to find the balance. This ‘enrichment program’ is very high on our priority list and, as one parent speaking, we will find a way.”

Concerned parents attended an Explorers specific meeting prior to the school board meeting Jan. 8.

“In one short meeting, four parents offered their time, money and resources,” said Brown.

The group then attended the school board meeting to voice their thoughts and concerns. Chair Cliff Vann acknowledged the potential of losing students and how to fund a program next year.

The board unanimously agreed that due to lack of funding based on the loss of the $60,000 21st Century Grant, the Explorers program will end at the end of this school year.

The Explorers development group will meet Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at the Potomac School Library for continued restructuring and solution-seeking. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the conversation. The group will present a plan at the February school board meeting detailing fundraising ideas, fee-based care and activities.

For more information on ideas, donations or volunteering please contact Van Grinsven at or 307-689-3618.


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