New Money Helps Schools and Students Adapt
By Dianne Anderson
Kids, face to face in schools across the nation, may be continuing fights that started on social media and now spilling over into schoolyards, or it may be just sensory overload.
Either way, some kids are distracted in the transition back to in-person learning.
Elizabeth Cochrane-Benoit said that her school is factoring in some best practices for how to handle those anxious moments.
“We built in a social break to give kids in between learning and give them some outside time, a reset to socialize and talk. We’re working to start rebuilding their academic language, and how to have conversations,” said Cochrane-Benoit, principal at Captain F. Leland Norton Elementary in San Bernardino.
During the pandemic, a lot of ground was lost on verbal and social skills. She has noticed student maturity may not have yet caught up to their grade level, but they’re working on it.
“What we find at the elementary level is that kids left school in first grade and have come back in second and third grade and have no social skills. The behavior is still in 2nd grade for fourth graders, and we have sixth graders now at the maturity level of fourth grade,” she said.
One way of getting the kids ready to learn each morning has been in expanding their breakfast availability. Before COVID, they were feeding about 175 students, but now they serve 460.
Additional help, including access to virtual doctor appointments, and other health services is available for families. Whenever needed, students are referred out to the district to access counselors for wraparound support.
“Within the school system and for family support, we’re trying to keep students safe, focused on Social Emotional Learning is the priority,” she said.
Constantly reminding students of what’s expected of them now that they are back in class is another approach. The rules may be different at school than at home.
Her school ranks among the lowest income in the area. Many parents are essential workers, had to work, and a lot of kids were left home with little or no oversight.
“You’ve been home for a year and a half with no one telling you what to do, you’ve become your own adult,” she said.
But recent funding may help get kids back on track. ESSR funding is expected to help bring many resources and contract services from now until the 2023-24 school year.
School Board Member Danny Tillman said the hundreds of millions of dollars will help mitigate some of the pandemic problems, with a lot of resources toward safety with air purifiers, and getting ventilation up to speed.
Another good use of those dollars will be plugging up the operating deficit from the pandemic, he said. The money will also help the district sustain services and avoid increasing cuts down the line.
“A lot of it now is going toward hiring substitute teachers, and whatever it takes because it’s hard to recruit people right now, to contract with other transportation companies to try to find more buses to maintain our routes,” Tillman said.
But, as is often the case, the catch is that the funding has to be spent by the 2023-24 school year.
“If there’s an amount that was awarded that wasn’t spent, then you lose that money,” he said, noting that the funding only covers short-term hires and contracts through the 2023-24 school year.
Another benefit is that before school and early start programs are expanding for working families. Parents can drop kids off at all of the elementary schools at 7:30 a.m. and after-school programs for kids run until 6:00 p.m.
Compared to last year, Erin Freeman said this year seems good, thanks to their strong focus on Social Emotional Learning. At Serrano Middle School, she said the students, whom she calls champions, needed to feel safe and welcome again.
“We saw some of it in summer school. The kids looked a little like they were deer in the headlights,” she said.
Summer school helped to reconnect, but she noticed they were very short on conversation, or following instructions. One young lady just stared blankly at her when she spoke to her.
Freeman feels they may have simply forgotten how to act around adults or in a group setting.
“Our first thought as adults is they’re trying to be disrespectful. I looked at her and said please sweetie, when an adult talks to you, nod your head so they know you heard them. She looked surprised, and said oh okay.”
Her students also have easy access to advisors to help them with assignments and submissions, which reduces stress, and all kids seem familiar with how to use their QR Codes for their iPads, which they scan to connect with their counselors.
Parents are reaching out for tips to deal with their children getting back to school, but in many ways, some are also hesitant. For that reason, their school started Champion Chat as a way to get parents back in the mix, to engage on their schedule and on their terms, text or email.
“You talk about students feeling uncomfortable. A little bit of it is the boundaries, like everyone else they want to know, how can I help my kid because everyone feels like a fish out of water.”
Maria Garcia, spokesperson for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, said that they are receiving a little over $400 million in ESSER (federal) and AB 86 (state) funding. Some of that funding must be spent as early as September 2022, and they have until 2024 to use the rest.
“This federal and state allocation will fund various priorities that SBCUSD developed collaboratively with input from stakeholders. For example, some funding will be used for short-term hires, such as limited-term employees, based on our staffing needs ” Garcia said in an email.
The funding also covers a medically trained COVID-19 liaison for each school to respond to COVID-19 concerns, provide guidance and information for students, families, and staff. She said that the liason will also serve as the primary point of contact for students who test positive or may have been exposed to COVID-19. Liaisons also administer free COVID-19 testing in schools.
The Board of Education approved the ESSER III spending plan for the funding, which will be used to implement strategies for continuous and safe in-person learning and addressing the impact of lost instructional time.
“This would include summer learning or enrichment, after school and extended day, tutoring opportunities, social emotional learning and mental health support, technology for students and operations for a safe in-person learning, including facilities repair and improvement,” she said.