MERIDEN — Local school officials plan to use a significant portion of federal American Rescue Plan funds toward addressing students’ academic needs, as well as their social, emotional and mental health needs over the next few years.
According to the State Department of Education, the school district’s allocation of Elementary and Secondary Emergency School Relief funds under the American Rescue Plan is more than $23 million, with a requirement that they be expended during a three-year span. About $4.6 million of those funds need to be set aside for learning recovery.
The state is slated to receive $1.1 billion worth of funding to “help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, according to SDE. A portion of those funds has been earmarked for academic recovery.
During the Meriden Board of Education’s June 8 meeting, district officials outlined a plan to expend $12 million of the district’s allocation toward supporting students’ academic and behavioral needs over the next three years. That plan includes the proposed hiring of additional math and reading tutors across grade levels, along with social workers, school psychologists and high school counselors to ensure students are on track.
During the school year that just concluded more than 63% of Meriden students attended school either fully in-person or on hybrid in-person and remote learning days.
District assessments of students’ academic progress showed students struggled early on in the school year, but made significant gains during the second semester. For example, at Nathan Hale Elementary School, about 39% of students were achieving grade level proficiency in reading according to assessments administered midway through the school year.
Another 40% of students were on track. The remaining 21% of students were struggling, results showed. A second round of assessments in the spring showed learning had improved through the year: 58% of Nathan Hale students had achieved grade level proficiency, with 29% on track. Meanwhile, the percentage of students still struggling declined to 13%.
That’s “where we’re going to spend the most money on academic support,” Michael Grove, the district’s assistant superintendent for technology and operations, told Board of Education finance committee members earlier this month.
The full board, during its June 15, voted to approve the district’s application for use of those funds.
“As you know this year was a rough year for students and families,” Grove said during the June 8 finance committee meeting, adding that officials hope the upcoming school year provides more normalcy.
Officials plan to hire tutors to support students across all grade levels in reading and math.
Officials are not just eyeing students’ academic needs. They are looking to increase schools’ capacity to serve students’ behavioral and mental health needs as well. The district’s proposal eyes the hiring of school climate specialists, social workers and an additional school psychologist.
At the high school level, officials are worried about ninth grade students struggling. So they are looking for an additional two counselors to support those students.
Officials are also looking to increase after-school and summer learning opportunities for students. Some $3.6 million worth of funding would be allocated toward summer school for students in all grade levels, after-school and weekend programming, and increased busing for high school students participating in non-athletic related after-school programs.
Officials are also eyeing $4.5 million worth of building and facility improvements with the funds. Those improvements would include new air conditioning units on the second floors of Roger Sherman and Nathan Hale elementary schools, and the third floor of Pulaski Elementary School. Officials are also looking to outfit each of the elementary schools with science, technology, engineering and math lab equipment and to establish new sensory rooms for high school students with special needs.