STANFORD — It's a Wednesday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. and most people have left school for the day. But in the cafeteria and gymnasium at the McGuffey Sixth-Grade Center, several clusters of middle- and high-school students are just getting started on some unique projects.
Sophomore Ethan Lasure pulls the line taut on his bow and fires a bolt into a bullseye target in the gymnasium, where more than a dozen students are practicing archery.
Sixth-grade student Haylie Pevley sits with four other girls in the cafeteria, painting some personality onto clay vases. Pevley, who loves cows, writes "cows!!!" in bold lettering on the side of her vase.
A few tables over, four middle school students are sanding down fuselages for model airplanes with the help of high school peer tutor, junior Kyle Peters.
The after-school classes available at McGuffey on Mondays and Wednesdays are just one way Lincoln County students are benefiting from a federal grant program known as "21st Century."
21st Century funds have helped create morning and after-school tutoring programs; establish musical groups and music lessons; provide engineering, art and even CSI classes; and offer zumba, color guard, Kentucky United Nations Assembly and a variety of other activities students wouldn't get from their school experiences otherwise, Colleen Benson said.
Benson, Lincoln County's 21st Century project coordinator, is in charge of administering the middle and high schools' 21st century funds.
Some of her most recent investments include purchasing two mobile iPad labs for use in the middle school, paying high school students minimum wage to serve as peer tutors for middle-schoolers and providing a salary for a sergeant to lead the schools' Junior Guard program, which has experienced multiple cuts in funding over the past few years.
"These kids (in Junior Guard) are amazing," Benson said. "They're the ones willing to keep it going. They're willing to do whatever they need to do to keep it going. All I'm doing is paying for their (sergeant)."
But 21st-Century funds are not bottomless — the grants start out providing $150,000 annually, but taper off to $75,000 in the fifth year before ending entirely.
Lincoln County High School is currently in the second year of its 21st-Century grant and receiving the full $150,000. Lincoln County Middle School is in its fourth year and receiving $112,500.
The work required to land a 21st Century grant is extensive, and once a school district is receiving 21st Century funds, the district is monitored closely to make sure the money is being used for kids and achieving positive results.
Benson said Lincoln County's most recent 21st Century evaluation went well and the district got high marks.
Everything funded by 21st Century money happens outside of regular school classes, but it all must tie back into the schools' core learning goals, Benson said.
"Almost everything we do somehow or another comes back to the school day and what they're learning," she said. "That's our goal is to reinforce what they're learning."
Benson said the intention behind 21st Century grants is to get good programs going and then develop local support for the programs that will keep the programs going once the federal funding is gone.
"In a community as small as Lincoln County, it's really hard … to sustain a program of this size," she said. "It's supposed to be sustained by the community as time goes on. We're working on that."
Benson and a local 21st-Century advisory council have written up a sustainability plan, but by the fifth year of the middle school's grant, when funding is cut to $75,000 "we're going to be hurting," she said.
When the Middle School's grant dries up, middle-schoolers can still be included and allowed to participate in the high school's 21st Century programs to some extent, Benson said.
The 21st-Century funding was originally tied to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but now that Kentucky's NCLB requirements have been waived and the state is moving to new methods for measuring performance and accountability, it's unclear whether 21st-Century grants will still be available, Benson said.
It's possible some kind of grant renewal option may become available, but even the state Department of Education isn't entirely sure what will happen, Benson said.
Schools with 21st Century grants are required to provide the same educational opportunities in the fifth year of funding as they provided in the first year of funding.
Benson said by design, Lincoln's 21st-Century funds have been heavily invested in equipment such as the iPad labs and a Weather Bug radar that students use to study the weather.
As the funding goes away, the school district will still have the equipment available, but it will be up to the community to put in the time and effort to put it to use for students.
Depending on how much community support can be found, it may be that after-school classes are held with less frequency or that students will have to work out their own transportation in order to participate in the programs.
Benson said as the time nears when the grants will expire, efforts are ramping up to get the word out and find people willing to give of their time or out of their wallets to help the programs remain intact.
We really need some people who can come and help, who can come and teach," she said.
Volunteers for 21st Century programs first go through a background check paid for by 21st Century. Benson said anyone interested in helping out can call her at Lincoln County Middle School at (606) 365-8400.
"I don't know how much the community can help and I don't know how many people are willing to come in and volunteer their time as opposed to being paid for their time," Benson said. "Worst-case scenario is it's just gone — we won't have it any more."