Summit School District uses nearly $2.6M in federal aid for English language learners, mental health support
The Summit School District has been able to place a renewed focus on social-emotional learning, support for English language learners and mental health resources thanks to nearly $2.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief.
Last year, the federal government sent two separate grants to public schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and American Rescue Plan act, totalling $176.3 billion for schools nationwide, according to the U.S. Office of Elementary & Secondary Education.
The money is in addition to an original $30.75 billion sent to school districts in March 2020 to help pay for COVID-19 mitigation efforts, like new air filters, masks and hand sanitizer. Summit School District received $226,382 from that allocation, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
While the first round of relief funds were a response to an emergency, last year’s grants allowed districts to look to the future. Although Summit’s portion is only a small fraction of what the federal government set aside, the money has been able to go a long way, district officials said.
When planning for spending the funds, district leadership met with school principals to get a sense of where student needs were, said Chief Academic Officer Mary Kay Dore.
One of the grants required that at least 20% of the funds are used to address learning loss.
Middle and high school principals felt strongly that the money should be used to support English language learners. So $180,940 was set aside in the 2021-22 budget to hire two new employees that help support those students. The district hired those employees in January, and they’ve been working to provide direct support to English-learning students throughout the school day.
“Targeting those second-language-learning students is really an important piece where they felt like they could use some extra support,” Dore said.
The district also budgeted $153,333 for elementary curriculum as part of the learning-loss component. That money helped elementary teachers ensure they were meeting new curriculum standards.
Most of the remaining money has gone towards new employees. The district budgeted nearly $1 million on new full-time positions, including a mental health/social-emotional learning coordinator, three remote learning teachers and a coordinator, a physical health coordinator and a bilingual community liaison for the 2021-22 school year.
The district found that it would need extra support as students navigated the return to in-person learning. The district’s new social-emotional wellness coordinator, in particular, has been able to help both teachers and students navigate the impacts of the pandemic.
“(The) social-emotional wellness coordinator really has been able to work with schools on that social-emotional development and mental health support to make sure we were increasing that support,” Dore said.
Much of the remaining funds have been used to further support students in their return to school, including new software for remote learning, professional development for staff and funding for teachers to work for summer programs.
The district still has $832,207 of the federal funds to budget for the upcoming school year. The district plans to continue dedicating those funds to the full time positions, Chief Finance Officer Kara Drake said.
“We hope to keep the positions that were added with the ESSER funds for another year and continue the work that those positions have been providing to the district and to our students,” she said.
Although the money is secured for next year, the district is only able to use it through September 2023. Drake refers to that date as a “funding cliff,” which will require the district to either find the money elsewhere or let go of those positions.
Drake said the district is still planning how it will address the funding cliff, but she and Dore are hopeful state and federal lawmakers will consider renewing the grants past the September 2023 cut off.
“I think all of us collectively in public education hope that the state and the feds see that this money that they gave to us to help, especially with COVID, has done some really good things,” Dore said. “We’ve been able to support things that we haven’t been able to do in the past. Maybe they’ll see, especially at the state level, how we are lacking in some funding.”
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