The Weekly Connect 11/15/21

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

City Connects is an example of how to systematically provide beneficial relationships and resources to students, especially in the wake of the pandemic. 

Chronic absenteeism is growing worse in California. 

The infrastructure bill directs federal funds to replacing lead pipes in schools

Hiring black school counselors benefits black students. 

To read more, click on the following links.

City Connects in the News

Relationships, Resources Must Become a Focus in Learning to Address Mental Health Crisis
K-12 Dive: Schools are on the front lines of the national mental health emergency recently declared by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Signaling an important shift, a recent report from RAND shows educators are maintaining a focus on academics while investing more in student mental health, after-school programs, relationships and a sense of belonging, and access to essential resources. What evidence-based approaches have in common is that they take a universal approach to student support, focus on the “whole child,” and are integrated into the day-to-day functioning of the school. One such program, City Connects, is incubated at Boston College and trains school counselors and social workers as “coordinators” who work in pre-kindergarten to grade 8 settings serving high proportions of low-income students. The coordinators work with teachers, students, and families to develop and deliver personalized plans of school- and community-based resources, form strong relationships, and create opportunities for each and every student in a school.

Indiana Educators Tasked with Catching Students Up Due to Pandemic Learning Loss
CBS 4 Indy: After roughly two years of balancing protocols, virtual learning, and quarantines, Indiana schools are facing challenging learning gaps, as well as struggling students and teachers. Jillian Lain, Director of City Connects Midwest, is focused on one of the solutions to address these challenges. City Connects, in partnership with Marian University, is a program that is new to Indiana schools this fall. In other cities, City Connects has been proven to reduce student dropout rates and improve test scores and school attendance over several decades. “Most importantly it really looks at the root causes of some of the challenges students are facing outside of the school,” Lain added. “With this really intentional approach, we know all students are affected by this learning loss, so the biggest piece is really just making sure we’re addressing the needs of every student so we can get them back on track with the grade level they should be at.”

Research & Practice

America’s Reading Problem: Scores Were Dropping Even Before the Pandemic
The Hechinger Report: Teachers across the country are seeing more and more students struggle with reading this school year. Pandemic school closures and remote instruction made learning to read much harder, especially for young, low-income students who didn’t have adequate technology at home or an adult who could assist them during the day. Many older students lost the daily habit of reading. Even before the pandemic, data showed that nearly two-thirds of U.S. students were unable to read at grade level. Scores had been getting worse for several years. The pandemic made a bad situation worse, especially for students in low-income districts. In high-poverty schools, the drop in reading scores on the MAP test was often more than three times as large as it was in low-poverty schools.

The Evolving World of Education Research-Practice Partnerships
Brookings: Over the past two decades, partnerships between agencies primarily conducting research and those primarily administering education have been transforming both research and practice. Even more, the partnerships themselves are also changing with time. Often cited as a potential mechanism to bridge the longstanding gap between education research and practice, research-practice partnerships (RPPs) also hold great promise for those interested in disrupting power asymmetries, centering equity, and building new pathways for knowledge to flow. A recent report by the William T. Grant Foundation offered a comprehensive overview of RPPs and an updated definition.

Chronic Absenteeism Deepens, California Data Shows
K-12 Dive: A recent analysis of 17 California school districts reveals chronic absenteeism is worsening this academic year. The research, conducted by School Innovations & Achievement, found a chronic absenteeism rate of 27.4% in October 2021, compared to 18% in October 2020 and 11.2% in October 2019. Moving forward, the analysis recommends prioritizing outreach to students who were chronically absent last year and involving all school departments to focus on attendance by sharing data across teams. The analysis further advises implementing a separate pandemic-related absence code for “excused,” and that districts should double down on public communication regarding the importance of attendance.

Policy

Infrastructure Plan Would Replace Lead Pipes in Schools, Expand Internet
K-12 Dive: The replacement of lead service pipes that can bring toxic drinking water into school buildings was one of education’s biggest wins from the newly passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden shortly. The bill includes $55 billion to deliver clean drinking water for households, businesses, schools and child care centers. The White House estimates about 400,000 schools and child care centers have unsafe water. Although the $1.2 trillion bill also includes funding for expanding access to high speed internet, clean energy school buses, improvements to the supply chain, and other potential benefits for schools, missing from the legislation is $100 billion for school modernization and construction that was part of the original proposal.

Schools Are Dropping Mask Mandates, But Some Say Not So Fast
ABC News: As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to tick up and case and hospitalization rates decline, mask mandates for some school districts are changing, too, providing a bright spot for those hoping for a return to normalcy but caution from those who think it’s too soon. Masking in schools, a policy that researchers say is a simple and cost-effective, non-medical COVID-19 intervention, has been a highly politicized issue throughout the pandemic, igniting fury from parents and educators on all sides of the issue. The patchwork of mask policies varies by state and school district, much like policies across the country at large, with several states trying to ban mandates, while others are in line with guidance from the C.D.C. recommending universal indoor masking in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Around the Nation

COVID Harmed Kids’ Mental Health — And Schools Are Feeling It
Pew Trusts: After more than 18 months of school closures and social isolation, public school children are mostly back at their desks. But the grief, anxiety, and depression children experienced during the pandemic is welling over into classrooms, resulting in crying and disruptive behavior in many younger kids and increased violence and bullying among adolescents. “Nearly every child in the country is suffering to some degree from the psychological effects of the pandemic,” said Sharon Hoover, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health. The pandemic may subside, but its mental health effects will be around longer, Hoover says. “That’s why schools need to invest now in the mental health and well-being of our kids in a broad and comprehensive way—not just for children with learning disabilities and diagnosed mental health conditions, but for all students.” See related article: K-12 Dive “Student Mental Health Days Offer Chance to Recharge, Learn to Manage Stress.”

The ‘Absolutely Essential’ Role of Black Counselors on Campus
EdSource: The needs of Black students, advocates argue, are too often overlooked by non-Black middle and high school counselors. Black students are more likely to be placed in less rigorous classes, subject to harsher discipline, and less likely to have their mental health needs addressed, research shows. School counselors can act as gatekeepers or connectors to college by helping students choose classes and advising students on college applications and career options, and offering mental health support. While students of any background can receive high-quality advising from counselors of any race or ethnicity, when schools prioritize hiring Black school counselors, it can play an important role in boosting the achievement of Black students, building trust with families, and providing role models who understand Black students’ experiences.

New Programs to Tackle COVID Learning Gap in Madison City Schools
WAAY 31: Madison City Schools in Alabama started two after-school programs to address pandemic learning loss. Third grade teacher, Lauren Cecil, said the programs are “really just picking up on whatever (students) need or what they’re missing, whether that’s reading comprehension, fluency, phonics, vocabulary or in math.” Elementary schools have an after-school tutoring program that’s available twice a week for reading and math where kids have a unique curriculum focused on the needed skills. Meanwhile, middle and high school students have access to an online homework help line to help answer any questions they may have on their work or an upcoming test. Within their first week of implementation, Cecil has already seen how the program helped her students.

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