xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Harford schools spending $1 million COVID-19 grant to support disengaged students, those with special needs

Harford County Public Schools is one of 10 school systems across Maryland to receive a $1 million COVID-19 relief grant from the state, which will be used to help students in need of various services, particularly those who fell behind academically during virtual learning.

“It’s really great that we were awarded the funds to support student success,” Mary Beth Stapleton, manager of family and community partnerships for HCPS, said Friday.

Advertisement

The grant awards, which went to public and non-public schools, were announced April 7 by Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland State Department of Education. The $10 million in federal funds came to the state through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021. That money comes on top of the $1.2 billion in emergency assistance provided by the state to help schools respond to and recover from the pandemic.

Hogan also submitted in February a $1.5 billion supplemental budget for fiscal 2022, which is designed to help public and private schools reopen safely, as well as support child care and food assistance programs, plus higher education.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“An essential part of Maryland’s recovery depends on giving every single child in Maryland the ability to safely return for in-person learning,” the governor said in a news release announcing the $10 million grants.

“These funds will help provide support for our students who have suffered most in the pandemic, and help address learning loss experienced during virtual learning.”

The grants went to schools and school systems that demonstrated “creative strategies to support disengaged students, students with disabilities, teachers and families in need” with initiatives such as programs for mentoring and mental health, personalized academic assistance and re-engaging students in learning, according to the governor’s office.

Harford County Public Schools, which has students at all levels learning in person four days a week as of April 7, will put their $1 million toward programs such as “innovative tools for all,” which supports achievement and engagement for students learning virtually.

Advertisement

The tools allow teachers to present content in a virtual format, in “new and innovative ways,” and they can assess their students’ progress and interact with them in real time, Stapleton said.

Another initiative involves “tools to decrease various barriers to learning,” such as supporting students with special needs, who can learn virtually if necessary. Another tool to help students with special needs is a database — purchased with grant funds — used to track student records and plans electronically, documents that have previously been on paper only.

The $1 million grant also supports a 10-week spring recovery course for students who were struggling during the first and second quarters of the current school year, plus it will support the blended virtual program being offered by HCPS in the fall of 2021. Registration for that program is open now and more information is available on the school system website.

“[There are] lots of different initiatives that we’re able to support with these funds,” Stapleton said.

Harford school officials are working to help students, many of whom have been learning virtually from home the majority of the school year, recover their academics and get re-acclimated to classroom learning.

More than 330 elementary school students, or 4.3%, had at least one failing grade as of the end of the first quarter, and 621 students, or 7.8%, had at least one failed class as of the second quarter, Phillip Snyder, supervisor of accountability for HCPS, reported to the Board of Education earlier this month.

Over 28% of middle school students had at least one failing grade in the first quarter, and about 30.3% were failing in the second quarter this school year. That is a year-over-year increase from 15.6% and 19% in the first and second quarters in the 2019-20 school year.

The rate of high school students failing in the first half of this school year also increased from the same period last year — 34.9% had at least one failing grade in the first quarter and 35.5% in the second quarter this year, compared to 23.1% and 27.7% in the first and second quarters last year, according to Snyder.

“We’re not in this boat alone,” he said of HCPS. “This is a nationwide issue and concern, that school systems are constantly reaching out to students who may not be quite there and engaging with us, as we hope.”

The third quarter ended March 31, and officials will provide a report to the school board once those grades have been submitted and the data updated in the coming weeks, according to Snyder.

Academic recovery efforts began April 1, and hundreds of middle and high school students are participating in those programs, according to Michael O’Brien, executive director for secondary school instruction and performance.

“Students and families will need to choose the right time to receive help, and we need to be flexible and nimble over the next few months to really help our students,” he said.

O’Brien reported that 431 middle school and 864 high school students are participating in programs to help them recover academic credits and re-engage their learning habits, by working in the evening with HCPS teachers.

“If your child is struggling or you need additional support, please reach out to your school counselor or building principal, and they will discuss the timing and the different options for you and your own child’s support,” he said.

Elementary school officials also have recognized that “recovery is crucial,” and analyzed student performance data at the school, grade, class and even individual student level, according to Renee Villareal, executive director of elementary school instruction and performance.

Students struggling academically have received “appropriate interventions,” based on their needs, plus summer programs will be available to help students recover.

“Our school improvement teams are working now to analyze gaps in learning, and planning for how instruction may look different in the fall,” Villareal said.

Multiple in-person and virtual programs will be available for students this summer, too. A course catalog is available on the HCPS website, and families will be able to register for programs online from May 10 to May 24, according to Rebecca Pensero, grant coordinator of eLearning.

“We’ve created a one-stop shop, where parents can see all of the program offerings for this summer as well as register, all in one place,” Pensero said.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement