The Weekly Connect 11/22/21

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:

Transgender students need adult support in school. 

Schools use federal Covid relief funds to focus more on students’ mental health

One driver of the digital divide: families can’t afford broadband service

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Counselors Say Students’ SEL Skills Just as Important as Academic Development
K-12 Dive: For students, self-management skills, such as self-discipline, self-control and self-motivation, are some of the most difficult social and emotional practices to learn but also the most important to develop, according to a recent report by the American School Counselor Association and ACT. The report drew its conclusions and recommendations from a survey of current and pre-service school counselors, among others. The survey revealed nearly 75% of district directors of counseling programs said building students’ social and emotional skills were as important for school success as gaining academic knowledge. The report recommends school districts incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) initiatives in systemwide plans by aligning goals and strategies for SEL development throughout students’ K-12 experience.

Good News, Bad News? Majority Supports Masks in Schools as COVID Closures Climb
District Administration: A recent poll has found majority support for mask and vaccine mandates at a time when school closures are once again climbing as COVID cases creep back up in various parts of the country. Some 61% of the public approves of requiring students, teachers, and staff to wear face masks and 59% support vaccine mandates for teachers and staff, according to a poll from Monmouth University. Both numbers decreased slightly from a poll conducted in September. Still, 53% backed vaccine mandates for students age 12 and older, though only 34% of parents supported mandates for 5- to 11-year-olds.

What Do L.A. Students Want Most? Mental Health Help, an Adult to Listen, Reliable Tech
Los Angeles Times: Students in Los Angeles public schools said they have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed a “non-negotiable” need for academic success: mental wellness. Yet 1 in 3 students of color say they don’t have an adult at school with whom they feel comfortable enough to talk about how they are feeling, according to a recent survey of middle and high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The survey results drive home students’ hardships and high-priority needs, including access to technology and opportunities for tutoring, extra classes and extracurricular activities. About half the students said they worried about not only their own mental health but that of parents, other family members, and friends. They are stressed about their physical health, too. See related article: The Hechinger Report “Surrounded by Pandemic Angst, What Do Middle Schoolers Want? A Welcoming, Safe Place to Learn.”

Transgender Students Need Adult Support in School. Is It Slipping?
Education Week: Support from teachers and administrators can be crucial to transgender students’ mental health and engagement in school. Transgender students, who make up nearly 1 in 50 U.S. high school students, have been among the most isolated groups during the pandemic, and they returned to school this year amid a new wave of anti-trans legislation regarding restroom use and participation in single-sex sports and extracurricular activities. A new survey suggests these ongoing debates may be eroding support for transgender students in schools. In the recent survey, less than 41% of educators and school and district administrators said that transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with the gender with which they identify. That’s down from 51% of these key school staff members who said they supported transgender students in a similar 2017 survey.

Policy

With US Aid Money, Schools Put Bigger Focus on Mental Health
AP News: With $190 billion in pandemic relief money, more than four times what the Education Department typically spends on K-12 schools annually, schools across the U.S. are quickly expanding their capacity to address students’ struggles with mental health. While school districts have broad latitude on how to spend the aid money, the urgency of the problem has been driven home by absenteeism, behavioral issues, and quieter signs of distress. For some school systems, the money has boosted long-standing work to help students cope with trauma. Others have launched new interventions. All told, the investments put public schools more than ever at the center of efforts to attend to students’ overall well-being. See related article: Education Week “Look Up How Much COVID Relief Aid Your School District is Getting.”

Parents Are Spending New Child Benefit on Food, Education. But Will Congress Keep It?
Chalkbeat: As part of the Biden-backed American Rescue Plan, Congress expanded the child tax credit, which provides cash benefits to most households with children, including some of the country’s poorest families. The IRS has been distributing that money monthly since July. How well has it worked? Initial data suggests the expanded program has cut child poverty and child hunger substantially — although the impact would be greater if all eligible families were receiving the payments. There’s not hard evidence yet, but previous research suggests that the monthly payments also could boost student learning. Indeed, many low-income families say they have used the funds on their children’s education.

Around the Nation

The Affordability Gap is the Biggest Part of the Digital Divide
The Hechinger Report: High-speed internet at home is a necessity for American families. Without it, kids can’t attend virtual classes or complete homework at home, and families can miss out on critical healthcare or government services. However, 28.2 million U.S. households lack what has become a basic need, according to a new report by EducationSuperHighway. Most of the 28 million households “have infrastructure available at their home but they just can’t afford to sign up for a broadband service,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway. Specifically, only a third of those without broadband access blame a lack of infrastructure; it’s the remaining two thirds who say they can’t afford it, Marwell noted. See related articles: N.P.R. “Students Are Still Struggling to Get Internet. The Infrastructure Law Could Help” and T.H.E. Journal “Many Parents Say Tech Barriers Hindered Academic Success in the Last Year.”

How the Power of Play Builds Connections, Minds
ASCD SmartBrief: The pandemic magnified for educators the trouble students, especially young ones, have sitting still and focusing for long stretches. In addition, today’s kids are more likely to play inside, alone, in front of a screen after school, instead of outside with peers, limiting opportunities to develop social-emotional skills through trial-and-error. Staff at Brookwood Elementary School in Forsyth County, Georgia, address this by scheduling two recesses per day for students and have a Day of Play four times a year. During the Day of Play, kids have a daylong, “unstructured, structured” opportunity to integrate among grades for play and exploration, with an emphasis on outside activity and the five competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

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