The Weekly Connect 10/12/21

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

Springfield Public Schools is using a second $1 million grant from the MassMutual Foundation to continue implementing City Connects.

Head Start study reveals gains for virtual learners

California imposes country’s first K-12 vaccine mandate, which could go into effect in January.

An Arkansas school district opens a food pantry that provides food as well as school supplies, health and hygiene items, and essential clothing. 

To read more, click on the following links.

City Connects News

Springfield Public Schools Will Use $1 Million MassMutual Foundation Grant for Student Support Program
Mass Live: The MassMutual Foundation has granted Springfield Public Schools $1 million over two years to support an initiative that has improved student academic performance, attendance, and graduation rates in the district. This is the second $1 million grant from the foundation to the schools, the first issued in 2018, to benefit City Connects, a national program executed by the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, that provides support for students based on their individual needs by addressing out-of-school challenges that affect student success and leverages existing community resources and support services to optimize students’ readiness to learn, said Superintendent of Schools Daniel Warwick.

‘Should Be in Every Single School’: Muncie Schools Adopt City Connects to Fight Learning Loss
The Star Press: To combat learning loss and the achievement gap, Muncie Community Schools is adopting City Connects, a student-support program that has proven to result in better grades, improve attendance and lower dropout rates, officials said. “City Connects has proven to work in other districts like ours, and we expect it will have the same impact of higher achievement and fewer dropouts in our schools,” MCS Director of Public Education and CEO Lee Ann Kwiatkowski said. “The real beauty of this program is that it’s for all students, not just the ‘at risk’ ones, and we’re grateful to the City of Muncie and Marian University for partnering with us to make it possible here at Muncie Community Schools.”

Research & Practice

While Learning Online, Many Students Received a Surprising Pandemic Respite From Cyberbullying
The Hechinger Report: Boston University researchers found that far fewer people were researching all types of bullying than before. In the past, online searches have proven a useful data point when understanding how often bullying is occurring, according to the researchers who conducted the study. From March 2020 through February 2021, searches for terms related to bullying and cyberbullying dropped 30-40%. This trend started reversing once in-person learning began resuming in many communities. In Canada, a University of Ottawa study that surveyed students in grades 4- 12 found that rates of cyberbullying dropped slightly during the pandemic and rates of other types of bullying decreased dramatically.

Head Start Study Reveals Surprising Gains for Virtual Learners During the Pandemic
The 74 Million: During the 2020-2021 school year, researchers evaluated growth in school readiness outcomes among young children attending Acelero’s Early Head Start programs. Preschoolers who attended the centers in person most of the year made significant gains in three areas of school readiness, but those in the virtual model kept pace with their peers, showing strong progress in two areas: reading and math skills. In addition, the infants and toddlers who participated in Acelero Learning’s Early Head Start programs developed language skills beyond what is expected for their age, which shows that when in-person education is not possible, virtual classes can support child development when coordinated well with families. See related article: Brookings “Invest in Programs That Boost Children’s Learning and Development.”

Oklahoma Student Test Scores Down at End of Pandemic Year
AP News: Oklahoma school students scored lower on standardized tests in 2021 following a year of disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The department reported 22.1% scored proficient in math, 24.8% in English language arts and 29.7% in science. The last round of testing, in 2019, found 31.9% proficient in math, 33.4% in English language arts and 34.5% in science. “The effects of the pandemic will be seen and felt for years to come,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “There is no quick fix.” See related article: The Dallas Morning News “Dallas Schools Were On the Rise, Praised for Progress and Reform. And Then the Pandemic Hit.”

Proof Points: Focusing on Glasses in Schools
The Hechinger Report: It’s estimated that more than 1 in 5 school children are nearsighted or have another vision impairment that can be corrected by glasses, but only 5-8% of school children actually have glasses. A team of education researchers, vision specialists and philanthropists sought to rectify this problem in Baltimore and see if it impacted students’ academic performances in school. Mobile optician clinics provided free glasses and replacements to students who needed them. Results on the impact of the program were mixed. Reading scores were higher in grades 3-7, but the benefits disappeared after one year. No academic benefits were detected for younger children. Students with disabilities and lower achieving students saw the largest academic gains.

‘Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity’: Research Heavyweights Team Up to Help Districts Use Real-Time Data to Aid Students’ Pandemic Recovery
The 74 Million: NWEA, Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and CALDER, at the American Institutes for Research are joining forces to help school systems use data to aid student recovery from pandemic learning disruptions. The research organizations will partner with a consortium of districts across the United States to provide timely information about tutoring, after-school programs, and other interventions educators hope, but are not sure, will help children regain ground in reading, math, and other subjects. The goal is to allow educators to pivot quickly when an academic intervention does not work as well as they had hoped, or to double-down on strategies that yield good outcomes.

The Gifted Gap: Best and the Brightest Among Black and Low Income Students Fall Behind Their Whiter, More Affluent Peers, Study Finds
The 74 Million: Efforts to improve the quality of American education often focus on students who are achieving below their peers. But recently released research from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests that access to educational opportunity is also unequally distributed among high achieving children. The study found that Black and low-income elementary schoolers in Ohio who scored well on state exams were less likely to be classified as gifted and talented than comparable white and high-income children. Into middle and high school, they achieved at lower levels on standardized tests, Advanced Placement exams, and college entrance exams, and they were less likely to enroll in college.

Policy

California Governor Gavin Newsom Imposes Country’s First K-12 Vaccine Mandate
US News & World Report: Governor Gavin Newson of California recently announced that students in public and private schools will soon be required to receive a coronavirus vaccine–a move that marks the first K-12 vaccine mandate in the U.S. The requirement will cover students in grades 7-12. Currently, the FDA has only granted full approval to children 16 and up and children aged 12 to 15 are eligible for the vaccine through the FDA’s emergency use authorization. However, public health experts expect the FDA to provide full approval for children 12 and up as early as next month, meaning the governor’s order could take effect as soon as January 2022. The agency is expected to authorize the vaccine for emergency use for ages 5-11 soon. See related article: The New York Times “What to Know About California’s Free School Lunch Program.”

Districts Would Have to Show Equity for High-Poverty Schools Under Proposed Biden Rule
Education Week: The Biden administration wants school districts to show that they’re treating their high-needs schools fairly when it comes to funding and staffing, under a proposed requirement related to the most-recent federal COVID-19 relief package. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposal would require states to publish information about how each eligible school district is shielding those schools from disproportionate cuts in the next few years, as a condition of receiving funding under the American Rescue Plan. If adopted, the requirement could provide helpful data for researchers and policymakers seeking to understand the impact of the American Rescue Plan, and trends in school funding, over the next few years.

An Update on the Effect of Pandemic EBT on Measures of Food Hardship
Brookings: To support child nutrition in the wake of the pandemic, Congress authorized Pandemic EBT, which provides families with an electronic debit card to purchase groceries for the value of the school meals missed due to pandemic-related school closures. Brookings researchers conducted a preliminary analysis of the effect of the program. They found that in the 2020-21 school year, the impact of the Pandemic EBT was to: reduce the share of families in SNAP households where children experienced very low food security by 17%; reduce food insufficiency among SNAP households by 28%; and alleviate food hardship in states with relatively high rates of school closures due to COVID-19. In these states, Pandemic EBT reduced children’s very low food security by 22% and household food insufficiency by 39%.

Around the Nation

As Students with Long-Haul COVID Return to School, Many Districts Don’t Fully Know How to Help
The Washington Post: As students return to classrooms, families and educators are maneuvering the uncharted territory of trying to support children with long-haul covid. The number of U.S. children who have long-term symptoms is unknown, but doctors said for some of them, issues like fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating can endure for months, interfering with daily activities and learning. With the shift back to in-person learning, those challenges are more apparent. During virtual learning, students with long covid could participate from bed or lie down during breaks. Accommodations like increased test-taking time, modified movements in physical education, and additional minutes to switch classrooms make it feasible for some long-haul students to keep learning in person. See related article: Chalkbeat “Stress and Short Tempers: Schools Struggle with Behavior as Students Return.”

Springdale School District to Open Unique Food Pantry
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: The Springdale School District is preparing to open a food pantry that administrators say is unlike any other district pantry in Northwest Arkansas. Treehouse Pantry, projected to open at the end of this month, will feature free food, school supplies, health and hygiene items, and essential clothing, said Damon Donnell, the school district’s student services director. The pantry will also have staff members to help families connect with services such as food stamps, health care and community resources, he said. “Our whole mission here is to remove barriers to a student’s academic and social success,” Donnell said. “If you don’t have food, and your stomach’s growling the whole time, you’re probably not going to do real well in school.”

How 2 Middle Schools Are Prioritizing SEL for Teenage Students
K-12 Dive: The last time this year’s 7th-graders had a normal school year was in 2018-19, when they were in 4th grade. In that time there’s been a national awakening to racial injustice, climate catastrophes, and personal physical and social changes these students experienced. Middle school administrators recognize this and are implementing social-emotional learning strategies specific to their middle school students. Meigs Academic Magnet Middle School in Nashville is using a social-emotional learning (SEL) program to touch on how students can have a growth mindset and recognize that challenges are often valuable opportunities to learn skills. Belle Plaine Junior High School in Minnesota is using SEL programming coordinated with positive behavioral intervention supports to meet students’ needs. See related article: The Hechinger Report “Middle School Minds: Figuring Out Who You Are in the Midst of Global Turmoil.”

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