Gaithersburg SHARP survives cuts, MV site will end program
Two, if not four, of the seven churches that mentor and tutor suspended students will fold their programs after the county cut funding by 75 percent.
The County Council cut fiscal 2010 funding for the Student Help and Academic Resource Program, or SHARP, from $460,000 to $120,000 in the face of a drop in suspensions countywide.
Relying largely on volunteers and run out of churches, SHARP originated at Sandy Spring Sharp Street United Methodist Church in 1998. After adding a seventh site in 2006, SHARP served 19 high schools and 26 middle schools.
The Montgomery Village and Bethesda sites folded when county officials told them of the funding cut last month. The future of the upcounty site, which ran out of St. Marks United Methodist Church in Boyds last year, remains uncertain.
While Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Clarksburg is interested in hosting the program next year, the $120,000 may not be enough to support a fourth site, said Kate Garvey, director of children, youth and family services for the county's Department of Health and Human Services.
The Montgomery Village program served Watkins Mill High School and Montgomery Village and Neelsville middle schools. The Bethesda program served Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Churchill and Whitman high schools, and their feeder middle schools.
Christ the Servant Lutheran Church of Montgomery Village could not gather enough money to continue, said Barbara Harner, director of the church's youth and family ministry.
"We certainly want to continue to be a part of the SHARP consortium when the conversations go forward," she said. "If we can have our site back up and running if the [funding] situation were to change, we'd love to do that."
The Bethesda program, at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, may revive its program someday, said Kate Garvey, director of children, youth and family services for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Montgomery Village program, started three years ago, didn't have the resources to fall back on that sites like Gaithersburg, Burtonsville and Sandy Spring had when county funds dried up.
"Had we known a year ago, we would have had a year to maybe pull that kind of program together," Harner said. "It's unfortunate because the kids are the ones who lose out."
The Silver Spring site is also in doubt: Good Shepherd Memorial Church in Silver Spring has dropped contact with the county, Garvey said.
The Gaithersburg, Burtonsville and Sandy Spring sites are committed to next year, and will divide the $120,000, Garvey said.
SHARP is hailed by school administrators because it helps keep students out of the vicious cycle of bad behavior and falling behind on schoolwork.
The program saw fewer students over the 2008-2009 school year, after high school and middle school administrators countywide focused on intervention and mediation before punishment.
Suspensions fell from 192 to 59 this school year at Watkins Mill. Still, most parents who sent their children to SHARP did so to take advantage of the safety, mentoring and counseling the program offers, said Principal Kevin Hobbs.
"That was very valuable; it helps the kid come back in a better state of mind," Hobbs said.
Watkins Mill will determine this summer whether they can "do something in-house," Hobbs said, or if suspended students will have to go back to the way it was before SHARP, "where there was no other option than to just stay home."