High Point school board ponders how to spend federal funds

Wantage. Board members also discussed students’ social and emotional need and pandemic-year learning loss.

| 25 Jun 2021 | 04:55

The High Point Regional High School administration unveiled its return-to-school safety plan and discussed ways to use funds the district is expected to receive from the American Rescue Plan.

At the June 14 school board meeting, Seamus Campbell, director of curriculum and instruction, said the school is estimated to receive about $513,000 from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) III grant, which was recently approved by President Joe Biden as part of the American Rescue Plan.

The grant is meant to address the impact the Covid-19 pandemic. One condition is that 20 percent must be spent on learning loss.

Campbell said the district’s priorities will be on learning acceleration, social and emotional learning, and mental health and counseling services.

The grant opened on May 25. Campbell said the safe return plan is due by June 24. The grant funds must be spent by Sept. 30.

“It’s intended to be utilized in a way that it’s sustainable over a period time,” Campbell said.

The district has already received $287,000 in federal grants, including its $59,000 ESSER I grant spent last summer for personal protection equipment, sanitizing agents to keep the schools clean, and student connectivity for remote learning.

The district’s ESSER II grant has been used for information technology, maintenance, and mental health services.

“That hasn’t been spent yet,” Campbell said. “These are still areas where we have to apply that money and hear from stakeholders on how to best utilize that.”

The district is still receiving feedback on its safety plan. Districts can revise the plan every six months as needed as they receive feedback.

’Reactive mode’ may impede learning

Campbell said the district plans to offer more tutoring and is looking to invest in social and emotional learning.

Math teacher Kirsten Sabo said she was concerned about math education and how the kids are going to get caught up. She wants to see a solid program that will allow students to make up for their learning loss.

Lauren Cardinale, a certified medical support and clinical hypnotherapist in Frankford, said if children are still in “reactive mode,” learning won’t happen. This presents the staff with an opportunity to help students readjust, she said.

“It’s always challenging to connect students with mental health services,” Campbell said. “We have school-based counseling and special education psychologists. But in a rural area, trying to get kids connected with therapy is difficult. We need to continue to explore options and get creative.”

Sabo suggested returning to a nine-period day, offer counseling and other help during lunch, and changing the school schedule to allow for more lunches and enrichment opportunities like band, chorus, or additional courses.

Campbell said the money may be used for additional staff interventionists.

He also stressed the plan’s built-in flexibility.

“It’s not written in stone,” he said. “It’s something that’s intended to be revised.”