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Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:
Plunging preschool enrollment raises questions about young children’s school readiness.
In the shadow of the pandemic, school nurses are working nonstop.
As school disruptions continue, vulnerable students are being left behind.
To read more, click on the following links.
Research & Practice
Preschool Enrollment Has Plunged: What That Means for School Readiness
Education Week: Amid the pandemic, the number of young children attending preschool has dropped to its lowest level in more than a quarter century. The decline threatens to derail decades of improvements in school readiness, particularly for the most-vulnerable children. New Census data show only 40% of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school in 2020, a 14% drop from 2019 and the first time since 1996 that fewer than half of U.S. children in that age group attended preschool. The National Institute for Early Education Research found the top three reasons parents pulled their young children from preschool included fears of health risks, cuts to state and other preschool programs, and a dearth of in-school preschool options for working parents. See related article: The Hill “Pandemic Leads to Sharp Drop in School Enrollment.”
Masks Are Changing How Kids Interact
The Atlantic: Some psychologists and educators worry that impairment in facial processing due to masks can lead to challenges with socialization and communication. Kids may find reading people’s emotions through masks particularly difficult. And for children who are meeting new classmates for the first time while masked, recognition difficulties can slow down the getting-to-know-you process and, in the long run, hinder the development of trust. Experts recommend that teachers support students through leading lessons in social emotional learning to teach kids how to interact and make friends, giving students assigned seats, putting up photos of students not wearing masks, and encouraging kids to speak with one another often. See related article: WBUR “Learning with COVID: How Educators and Students are Finding a ‘New Normal’.”
More Families Used Child Tax Credit for Back-to-School Costs
K-12 Dive: As the school year approached, more low-income families reported using dollars from the expanded child tax credit payments to fund education-related expenses like books and other supplies, tuition, after-school programs, tutoring services, and transportation to school, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Between July and August, an estimated 31% of adults with children and household incomes below $25,000 spent their funds on education expenses. In September, 40% of families making below $35,000 did the same, the most recent analysis released by the organization shows. Other major expenses families covered with the payments included food, utility costs, clothing, and rent or mortgage.
F.D.A. Panel Recommends Covid Shots for Children 5 to 11
The New York Times: An expert committee advising the Food and Drug Administration recently recommended that regulators authorize Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, bringing about 28 million children a major step closer to becoming eligible for shots. If the F.D.A. follows the panel’s advice, as is expected, and the C.D.C. agrees, the Biden administration will have expanded vaccine access to all but the youngest Americans, while providing booster shots for many as well. Biden administration officials see the pediatric dose as crucial to keeping schools open and restoring a sense of normalcy to family and work life.
School Nurse Deficit Deepens as States Seek Relief
Pew Trusts: Since school doors opened this fall, school nurses have been working nonstop on COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantines. In most places, they’ve had to abandon many of their regular duties and add weekend and evening hours to their schedules. Missing are the one-on-one interactions with kids that are invaluable to their physical and mental well-being and academic achievement and the most rewarding part of the job. The Biden administration promised that help for school nurses was on the way, with $500 million set aside to bolster school-based health services in the American Rescue Plan. But a severe nationwide shortage of registered nurses and the unrelenting need for nurses in hospitals overrun with COVID-19 cases mean that much of the new federal money likely will be spent on support for school nurses such as training, scholarships, administrative staff, and other contract services—not on fresh troops.
Around the Nation
School-Led Wraparound Services for the Online Era
ASCD SmartBrief: Wraparound services started as a way to coordinate care for significantly disabled students who needed considerable physical, academic, and behavioral support in all of their life settings. Because of its success and sheer common sense, the concept of wraparound services is now considered the standard of care for students whose current school, family, medical, and community supports need to be coordinated to ensure students are receiving cohesive services that are building off of each other. Schools are an ideal context for delivering mental health services and the idea of wraparound services could be applied to all students in schools, not just those with an identifiable disability. This approach could connect all of the key people in a student’s life so the school can provide the best service possible, including teletherapy and other remote services.
Pandemic, Racial Justice Fuel Surge in Demand for Social-Emotional Learning
Education Week: The pandemic and rising concerns about racial justice over the past year and a half have fueled a surge in school district interest and spending on social-emotional learning, according to a new report. District spending on SEL programming grew about 45% between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. That increase coincided with a dramatic shift among teachers’ and school and district administrators’ priorities away from academic achievement and testing and toward students’ mental health. But the report — by Tyton Partners and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional learning (CASEL) — warns that in schools’ rush to expand social-emotional learning, little consensus has evolved about what quality programs should look like.
Mentors Help Students with Learning Disabilities Gain Confidence, Become Advocates
K-12 Dive: The Eye to Eye program in P.S. 76 in New York City has been the desired meeting place for middle school students struggling with attention, executive functioning, dyslexia and other learning disabilities. The key to the national nonprofit’s popularity with students, said founder and CEO David Flink, is that students are paired with “near-peer” mentors who are like them, people who have learning differences. The mentors are college students, only five or so years older than the students, which adds to the cool factor, Flink said. The mentors don’t tutor the students. Instead, they meet once a week for a school year and, using an arts-based curriculum, help build each student’s confidence, self-advocacy skills, and recognition of their own strengths. See related article: Chalkbeat “Chicago to Expand Anti-Violence Youth Program That Reduced Arrests in Pilot.”
Higher Food Prices Hit the Poor and Those Who Help Them
The New York Times: With food prices surging, many Americans have found their household budgets upended, forcing difficult choices at the supermarket and putting new demands on programs intended to help. Food banks and pantries, too, are struggling with the increase in costs, substituting or pulling the most expensive products, like beef, from offerings. What’s more, donations of food are down, even as the number of people seeking help remains elevated. Even well-off Americans have noticed that many items are commanding higher prices, but they can still manage. It’s different for people with limited means.
Vulnerable Students Left Behind as Schooling Disruptions Continue
Education Week: Even as schools have returned in full swing across the country, complications wrought by the pandemic persist, often falling hardest on those least able to weather them. For some families, it’s a matter of not having the private resources to deal with breakdowns in the public education system. For others, language or communication barriers leave them uninformed about things like programs that let students return to school despite virus exposures, as long as they test negative. While some students can keep up remotely during quarantines, others receive little to no instruction, or lack internet or devices. As districts seek solutions, they have to consider that disproportionate burden, said Bree Dusseault, principal at the Center on Reinventing Public Education. “If you’re going to be using a test as a tool to shorten quarantine, then all students [should] have equal and free and easy access to that test.”
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