MONTPELIER — Officials have laid out a plan to give kids things to do this summer after being cooped up for the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At his regular Friday news conference, Gov. Phil Scott said one of his priorities is to give Vermont kids safe, enriching, impactful and fun opportunities during the summer. Scott said his administration and those at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office have been working with Vermont Afterschool, a statewide nonprofit focused on supporting and sustaining learning opportunities outside of the school day, to expand accessibility and options for families this summer.

“As you’ve heard us talk about before, this has been a tough year for our kids. Less in-person learning and the loss of connection with friends and classmates. The lack of nutritious meals, physical education, sports, drama, music, clubs and other social events. So with the end of the pandemic in sight, we want to do whatever we can to give our kids a great summer to replace some of what they’ve lost,” the governor said.

The senator attended the conference by video. Sanders said it’s been a tough year for everyone, but especially for young people. He said the pandemic has highlighted an already existing problem with the need for more afterschool activities.

Sanders said part of the American Rescue Plan, a stimulus bill passed into law last month in response to the pandemic, includes increased funding for those programs and summer programs in Vermont to the tune of $71 million throughout the next 3 years.

“And God knows, that money is needed. And I look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to make sure that we spend it in the most imaginative, creative and cost-effective way possible,” he said.

Sanders said most of the money will go to school districts. He asked those districts to make the programs they offer more affordable.

“Or free. My own preference would be actually making them free,” he said.

He said every family in the state, regardless of their income, should know programs will be available this summer for their kids.

Sanders said education has to be part of the programs because of what students have lost during the past year. He said there will be an employment component where kids who are old enough may want to make some money to either save up for college or help their family after the economic damage the pandemic caused.

Heather Bouchey, deputy secretary of the state Agency of Education, said the state will use federal grant dollars to expand the number of slots and length of summer programming for kids.

“All types of nonprofit organizations, community partnerships and programs and school/community collaborative endeavors will be able to apply for funds to provide programming for more students, for more hours in the day, more days in the week than previously available,” Bouchey said.

She said the state is especially interested in applications from programs that build in affordability and accessibility for students.

She said more details will be made available in the days ahead in terms of how to apply, eligibility criteria and allowable expenses. Bouchey instructed residents to go to www.vermontafterschool.org/summermatters for more information.

She said there, residents will find job listings for older youth and what programs are available, including a map of the state with details of those programs.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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