More Jobs, New Blood, and Adaptation in Public Education

With the 21-22 school year fast approaching along with increased anxiety over the uptick in COVID-19 Delta variant cases, there is a silver lining to a looming, potential storm cloud. Namely, that despite significant job losses for public education in 2020, the US added 943,000 jobs in July—220,000 of which were in local education—according to a report cited by American City & County from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This has led to an influx of ambitious and optimistic teachers and education programs determined to showcase what school districts have learned in the past year and how they continue to adapt to ongoing pandemic-related challenges.

If the previous year taught anyone anything, it’s “that the way the pandemic force-fed technology into every aspect of education will likely be one of its lasting legacies,” as one spirited new teacher pointed out in an interview with Government Technology. While every state and school district will employ different approaches in the upcoming school year, most will share a common theme of increased technological investment in education, and perhaps two of the most noteworthy examples come from Iowa and Montana.

Virtual Academy Enrollment in Iowa

Mason City Community Schools recently announced their ESSER-funded, K-12 Virtual Academy is a “go” with 73 students enrolled, including 14 from other districts. Most of the students are high school aged, but the academy is flexible enough to support a diverse group of students, including those with individual education plans, gifted students, and even those interested in participating in extracurricular activities.

This program is currently set to run on a $500,000 budget that includes 4 full-time staff members dedicated to K-8 students, 10 part-time staff members for high school instruction, and a variety of tools based in Google technology that provides flexibility for staff and students alike. Given that the new virtual academy offers a K-12 model that can support any student in the state, the district is optimistic that the new program will grow organically over time.

Combating Learning Loss in Montana

After conducting a 4,500-student survey in May, Opportunity to Learn reported “59 percent of student respondents said policies such as social distancing made learning more difficult for them.” Accordingly, Government Technology reports that Montana will use the $127 million in ESSER funds it will receive to help schools safely reopen and operate, as well as provide new resources for students that experienced significant learning loss the previous school year.

The plan will start with gathering localized data to properly gauge student access to mental health services and the educational technology needs of school districts, then provide the funds necessary to accommodate local needs. Senior manager of Montana’s Department of School Innovation and Improvement, Julie Murgel, says part of the plan also includes working with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and local libraries to “extended day learning and enrichment programs.”

Only time will tell as to the efficacy of these programs and others, but it is heartening to see school districts trying to utilize federal funds to meet the needs of their students and teachers. So, here’s to a good start to a new school year!

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