The Weekly Connect 9/7/21

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

Students who participated in Louisiana’s pre-K program for low income children have better educational outcomes than peers who were not in the program. 

The Biden administration pledges $85 million to support students’ mental health

As the pandemic continues, state and federal governments are investing in community schools to help stabilize students and families.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Children’s Brains on Stress
The Hechinger Report: Researchers had been following hundreds of families in Seattle for years prior to the pandemic, studying biological clues that connect stress and mental health outcomes in kids. When COVID hit, they continued surveying participants on their mental health. Prior to the pandemic, 30% of youths surveyed had anxiety or depression and 17% had behavioral issues. By April 2020 and fall 2020, both of those numbers jumped above 56%. Researchers found that the degree of pandemic-related stress and the number of stressors that a child experienced significantly predicted whether their mental health problems increased. Their study also found that getting adequate sleep, limiting exposure to news, and maintaining a daily routine were associated with better mental health outcomes.

Students in Louisiana Pre-K Showed Long-Term Benefits
AP News: Students who took part in Louisiana’s program for 4-year-olds from low-income households showed benefits throughout high school, according to a new study that reviewed the performance of the program’s students. The study, released by the Council for A Better Louisiana, compared over 40,000 students in the taxpayer-financed LA 4 program with children who did not attend pre-K classes. The review showed the LA 4 children outperformed their peers in most subjects in the fourth and eighth grade and in high school. The children who participated in the pre-K program scored higher on the ACT and were 45% less likely to be placed in special education programs. Eighty-eight percent of LA 4 children graduated from high school, compared to the statewide average of 79%.

Parents Report Declines in Academic, Social-Emotional Skills of Young Children
The Hechinger Report: The academic and emotional toll of the pandemic on young children might not have received as much attention as it has for older kids, but it has still been severe, according to a new report from Harvard University. The report, which surveyed more than 1,400 parents and nearly 900 early childhood educators in Massachusetts, found that over half of parents have seen their 6 to 8-year-old’s academic and social-emotional development harmed by the pandemic. Early childhood educators teaching younger children have noticed similar trends: 53% observed behavioral changes during the pandemic, and 77% of those educators who observed changes said they’ve been negative, including more temper tantrums, sadness or crying and difficulty separating from parents. See related article: Education Week “Parents Like Social-Emotional Learning, But Not the Name.”

Policy

Biden Administration Pledges $85M to Support Student Mental Health
K-12 Dive: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently pledged $85 million in funding to address growing mental healthcare demands for children and teens. Of those investments, $10.7 million are American Rescue Plan funds that will go to the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program, which trains primary care providers to treat children for mental health issues or refer them to another provider. The other $74.2 million comes in the form of grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This funding is for programs that raise awareness about youth mental health issues and train school staff to identify those at-risk. See related article: Chalkbeat “As Schools Hire Teachers and Counselors, a Funding Cliff Looms.”

Schools Must Identify Students With Disabilities Despite Pandemic Hurdles, Ed. Dept. Says
Education Week: Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, schools must meet their obligations under federal law to identify and serve children with disabilities, the Education Department said in a recently released guidance. “Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the mode of instruction,” children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, the U.S. Department of Education wrote in a letter to state and local educational administrators. The guidance document focused on Child Find, a portion of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that outlines states’ obligations to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, even those younger than school age and those who do not attend public schools.

Access to Meals Must be a Priority in the Return to School
K-12 Dive: Across the nation, kids are preparing to go back to school. Many will be returning to the classroom for the first time in over a year, and the excitement is palpable. Yet, as kids head back to school this fall, one in six children across the nation could struggle with hunger as they re-enter the classroom. Hungry kids have a harder time learning, and just like textbooks and pencils, food is an essential school supply. As teachers work with students to help them complete their unfinished learning, ensuring kids have access to meals will make the school year smoother by boosting test scores, attendance rates and the lives and future well-being of students. School nutrition programs can play a massive role helping kids get the food they need.

Around the Nation

‘Community Schools’ See Revival in Time of Heightened Need
U.S. News & World Report: Community schools are public schools that focus on the immediate needs of communities they serve, from providing health and dental clinics to establishing food banks and clothing drives. Their purpose is to understand what the families of their students need and find a way to provide that support, something that often happens naturally in communities with more economic capital. “The safety net for children has badly tattered, and the pandemic brought all of this into light because of the inequalities that have been allowed to fester for so long,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute. “So long as this country has a tattered safety net for children, we are going to need community school models everywhere to enable kids to be healthy, to learn and have a reasonable future.”

‘Everyone is Going to Need Support.’ How Schools Are Racing to Respond to a Mental Health Crisis
Chalkbeat: The turmoil of the past year, the anxiety-provoking return to classrooms, and the pent-up demand for support — all have experts predicting an unprecedented surge in student mental-health needs. To meet these needs, schools that are now flush with federal money are racing to respond by expanding the mental health services that often get short shrift. In a survey last school year, 70% of elementary and middle school principals said they didn’t have enough mental-health professionals to meet students’ needs. This year, schools are planning to use pandemic-relief money and partnerships with universities to increase their mental-health staff. Schools can start by assessing students’ mental health needs and watching for unusual behavior, such as frequent absences. Educators can also offer social-emotional learning and adopt a “trauma-informed” approach. See related article: Chalkbeat “Schools Across U.S. Staff Up to Address Pandemic-Fueled Rise in Mental Health Needs.”

Ensuring the Youngest Learners Succeed in a Post-Pandemic World
Inside Sources: The COVID-19 pandemic has widened opportunity gaps and exacerbated challenges already facing low-income families and children of color. In this post-pandemic moment of reckoning for American public education, it will be more important than ever to focus on developing the whole child, addressing their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development, not just improving children’s math and reading scores. Providing a comprehensive learning approach will be an important step, especially for our youngest learners. Policymakers should support program models that provide increased individualized instruction, additional behavioral supports, family partnership, and trauma-informed interventions.

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