The Weekly Connect 4/20/21

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

Schools can help students navigate the mental health challenges caused by the pandemic.

Trans students need the support of educators, especially as legislators are filing bills that would limit the right of trans people. 

Addressing COVID-19 attendance barriers.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Does It Hurt Children to Measure Pandemic Learning Loss?
The New York Times: Studies continue to show that amid the school closures and hardships of the past year, many young children have missed out on mastering fundamental reading and math skills. The Biden administration has told most states that unlike in 2020, they should plan on testing students this year, in part to measure the “educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.” But others are pushing back against the concept of “learning loss,” especially on behalf of the Black, Hispanic, and low-income children who, research shows, have fallen further behind over the past year. There are fears that a focus on what’s been lost could incite a moral panic that paints an entire generation as broken, when, in fact, simple, common-sense solutions can help students get back up to speed.

Students Crushed by Stress, Depression Are Back in Class. Here’s How Schools Meet Their Needs
USA Today: A youth mental health crisis has been percolating for years, with rates of anxiety and depression on the rise. Then came COVID-19, and with it increases in child anxiety and depression and more child emergency room visits for mental health conditions. These mental health challenges won’t disappear once students go back to school buildings. In some cases, the challenges will be compounded by new ones, such as pressure to achieve after a year of learning losses, the anxiety of returning to structured days, and the fear of being in close proximity with others. Experts say schools should first be mindful of basic student needs, including mental health, before focusing on learning loss. See related article: NBC News “Suicidal Thoughts Are Increasing in Young Kids, Experts Say. It Began Before the Pandemic.

Study Links Later Middle School, High School Start Times to Better Student Achievement
K-12 Dive: Changes in school start times have a “significant effect” on the amount of sleep and reported grade point averages of students, according to a working paper to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The researchers examined eight districts in Minnesota, four of which transitioned to later start times between 2016 and 2019, affecting 38,019 students in grades 5, 8, 9, and 11. Findings suggest districts that moved to later start times saw students’ GPAs increase by an average of 0.14 points overall, while predicted GPA increases ranged from 0.10 to 0.17 points. While small, the researchers on the study stated that these findings are meaningful.

Most Students With Disabilities Still Attend Remotely. Teachers Say They’re Falling Behind
Education Week: Most students with disabilities are still learning remotely during the pandemic, and new research suggests this may not be an ideal learning environment for them, even when they get the same supports that would traditionally help them in an in-person classroom. While teachers of students with disabilities in remote classes were as likely or even more likely than colleagues teaching in-person or hybrid classes to report that they were providing students with weekly small-group and one-on-one instruction, they were far more likely to say their students weren’t completing assignments, according to a new nationally representative survey conducted in the fall by the research firm RAND Corp.


Nearly $200B in K-12 Pandemic Relief Funding Brings Advantages, Challenges
K-12 Dive: Nearly $200 billion in federal relief funding for schools’ pandemic recoveries, provided across three pieces of legislation, brings enormous opportunities, alongside challenges to spend the money efficiently, appropriately, and in ways that avoid a future funding cliff, said education experts during a recent webinar. School administrators and stakeholders should plan how to spend the relief money in ways that will achieve intended goals, use evidence-based practices, and address needs of students most impacted by the pandemic. At the state level, leaders should ensure funding for education is maintained and does not disproportionately impact high-poverty school districts. The panelists also recommended states provide spending guidance to local districts as school systems manage the large amounts of aid. See related article: Chalkbeat “As Biden Eyes Infrastructure, Recent Research Suggests Students’ Environments Affect Academic Success.”

Trans Youth Are Under Attack. Educators Must Step Up
Education Week: Since January 2021, more than 100 anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country. Most of them target youth. The focus of these bills varies: Some ban trans health care; some prohibit teaching in schools about trans people and related topics; some mandate educators to disclose a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity without the child’s consent; many forbid trans youth from participating in school sports. Some recommendations for schools to better support trans youth and school employees include: expanding access to trans-inclusive school support services, providing equal access to all school activities and facilities, and implementing trans-competent school records and information systems.

State Lawmakers Want to Offer Free School Meals Permanently
WBZ News Radio: Massachusetts State Rep. Andy Vargas and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico are sponsoring a bill in to make school meals free for every student in Massachusetts. DiDomenico said in a statement about the bill that more than a quarter of the kids in Massachusetts dealing with food insecurity don’t qualify for free or reduced school meals. Lawmakers heard from teachers and administrators during a recent panel discussion on the bill. All students in Massachusetts have had access to free school meals during the pandemic, but Sen. DiDomenico said that could change. The bill says any school lunches not paid for by the federal government would fall under the responsibility of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. See related articles: Christian Science Monitor “Should School Lunches Be Free For All? A Pandemic Experiment” EdSource “California Moving to Pioneer Free Meals for All Students.”

Around the Nation

4 Steps to Addressing COVID-19 Attendance Barriers
K-12 Dive: In a recent webinar hosted by Attendance Works and the Institute for Educational Leadership, participants advised schools to use the remainder of this academic year to build programs promoting school attendance and participation so students and families have the supports needed for high engagement this year and next. Strategies such as identifying student populations struggling with absenteeism and using a multi-tiered approach built on positive relationships can help lead to higher attendance rates, as well as opportunities for learning and social emotional supports. Although chronic absenteeism was a problem before COVID-19, the changing learning formats and traumatic experiences from the past year have created an even greater need for schools to prioritize this issue.

NYC to Pay $500 to Nearly 1,000 Parents to Address Mental Health Needs at their Schools
Chalkbeat: The education department is launching a training program next month for parents, paying them $500 to become “wellness ambassadors” addressing mental health needs in their school communities. The initiative will pay the stipend to parent leaders from roughly 950 schools in neighborhoods hardest hit by the coronavirus. The new parent-facing program hinges on peer-to-peer support. Parent association leaders will be responsible for participating or selecting another parent to complete a four-part training focused on “trauma-informed, healing-centered care.” In the fall, those parents will be expected to work with their schools to lead family-facing sessions, officials said. See related article: CNN “Colorado Bill Would Give Children Free Mental Health Services During the Pandemic.”

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Author: City Connects

City Connects is an innovative school-based system that revitalizes student support in schools. City Connects collaborates with teachers to identify the strengths and needs of every child. We then create a uniquely tailored set of intervention, prevention, and enrichment services located in the community designed to help each student learn and thrive.

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