Alison Yin/EdSource
The first six weeks back on campus should be devoted to student and teacher well-being, according to a new report.

To help students readjust to life after the pandemic, schools should use their Covid-relief funding windfall to imbue mental health, equity and relationships into every aspect of the school day, according to a sweeping new report released Thursday.

“This is the biggest infusion of money into schools that many of us will see in our lifetimes. We’re hoping educators take advantage of this moment to not go back to the way we were,” said Christopher J. Nellum, interim executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland nonprofit that advocates for equity in schools and one of more than a dozen groups that contributed to the report. “We should take a moment to explore what we can do that’s exciting and innovative.”

The report, “Reimagine and Rebuild: Restarting school with equity at the center,” was co-published by Policy Analysis for California Education, Education Trust-West, Californians for Justice and an array of other groups, including the California PTA, the California Teachers Association, Association for California School Administrators and numerous social justice and youth advocacy groups.

California schools will receive more than $35.7 billion in state and federal pandemic funding over the next few months, which they can use to can pay for services like mental health counseling and tutoring for students. Although most of the funding is not permanent, schools can invest the money in some one-time ventures that could have lasting impacts, such as partnerships with mental health and community groups, said Heather Hough, executive director of PACE.

The report was based on interviews with teachers, administrators and researchers, as well as students of all backgrounds.

“In education, we talk a lot about students, but rarely do we talk with them. The brief was developed by working with Black, brown, Asian Pacific Islander and low-income students to lay out their blueprint for an education system that is built to support every student to thrive,” said Taryn Ishida, executive director of Californians for Justice, which advocates for young people of color.

The report focuses on summer and the first six weeks of school but also calls for longer-term improvements in K-12 education.

“We acknowledge that people are exhausted. We can’t do everything we need to do right away,” Hough said. “But we also know that schools have not met the needs of a large group of students for a long time, and we need to start looking at long-term changes.”

Noting that the pandemic disproportionately affected low-income students and students of color, the report urges schools to give extra help to those students — both academically and to meet their social and emotional needs.

The report also says that schools should focus on locating and re-engaging the estimated 130,000 students statewide who stopped attending school when classes shifted online and the thousands more who were chronically absent or otherwise disengaged.

The report suggests dozens of ideas, including:

  • Home visits for teachers to meet families, outdoor activities, games and art projects, small group discussions and other activities to help students and teachers get to know each other;
  • Regular mental health screenings and referrals to counselors for students who need extra support;
  • Restorative practices — such as group discussions about student behavior — instead of traditional discipline. Schools should also eliminate police and security;
  • A review of each student’s academic and attendance record during the pandemic to see what specific help they need to catch up. An “individual learning plan” could include goals and progress benchmarks for every student;
  • Tutoring for every student who needs it;
  • Partnerships with community groups such as the Boys and Girls Club to provide fun activities over the summer and after school so that students can relax, reconnect with their friends and regain their social and communications skills;
  • Curriculum “that allows students of all racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to feel safe, acknowledged and respected.” In addition, teachers should undergo training on how bias and privilege affects the classroom;
  • New technology, books, art supplies, play equipment and other supplies to improve learning opportunities;
  • Close attention to teachers’ mental well-being. That includes ample time for planning, breaks throughout the day and opportunities to express their own needs;
  • Partnerships with mental health organizations to provide extra assistance for students who need it;
  • Streamlined curriculum. If teachers don’t have time to cover all the content in a lesson, they should prioritize the main points instead of overwhelming students with tests and assignments.

Student well-being should be an urgent priority for every school reopening for in-person learning, Hough said.

“What we don’t want to see is kids coming back to school and being hammered with instructional content,” Hough said. “Kids cannot learn unless they have opportunities to connect with one another and feel seen and acknowledged as a whole person.”

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  1. Shammy Peterson 3 months ago3 months ago

    It made sense when you mentioned that tutoring for every student who needs it and a review of each student's record to see what specific help do they need. My son's teacher mentioned that it has been a challenge for her to give attention to each of the students due to some reasons. This was said to me when I noticed my son's failing scores. I would imagine that an equity professional training would help … Read More

    It made sense when you mentioned that tutoring for every student who needs it and a review of each student’s record to see what specific help do they need. My son’s teacher mentioned that it has been a challenge for her to give attention to each of the students due to some reasons. This was said to me when I noticed my son’s failing scores. I would imagine that an equity professional training would help them to manage everyone in the class so nobody would be left out.

  2. Jefferson P 3 months ago3 months ago

    “What we don’t want to see is kids coming back to school and being hammered with instructional content…” That’s right, we wouldn’t want learning to get in the way of our political activism. Students don’t need equity at the center in their schools, they need caring adults, structured environments and opportunities to learn. Leave the politics out of school.

  3. Brenda Lebsack 3 months ago3 months ago

    As a public school teacher in a Title 1 District, I want to address funding "partnerships with mental health and community groups" as stated by Heather Hough. The problem is these "outside groups" have access to students without parent consent or knowledge. Let me give an example. My district partners with Planned Parenthood. They teach students about "sexual health" and tell students they can text PPNOW to 774-636 if they have questions. … Read More

    As a public school teacher in a Title 1 District, I want to address funding “partnerships with mental health and community groups” as stated by Heather Hough. The problem is these “outside groups” have access to students without parent consent or knowledge.

    Let me give an example. My district partners with Planned Parenthood. They teach students about “sexual health” and tell students they can text PPNOW to 774-636 if they have questions. I tested it out. I texted, “I am an 11 year old girl who is afraid of puberty. I like boy things so I’m not sure about my gender, what should I do?”

    What they texted me back would cause most parents to hit the roof. Their text was, “What’s your gender? The choices provided to me were: boy/girl, cisgender, genderfluid, intersex, nonbinary, questioning, transgender, something else, or I want to name my own gender. Then they referred me to a LGBTQ Chat Space, then sent me information on puberty blockers. I screen shot everything that was sent to me. As a teacher and parent, I am sounding the alarm. This is an abuse of public education and a betrayal of parent trust.

  4. Cintya 3 months ago3 months ago

    The complete absence of disability access, equity, and inclusion from these recommendations is demoralizing to those of us who fight for them daily. We were suffering before the pandemic and desperately so within it. Many of these investments will not touch or benefit students with dis/abilities if we do not plan for them. Many of these students are profoundly segregated, excluded, and stigmatized. The compounded impact for those students with dis/abilities who also face barriers … Read More

    The complete absence of disability access, equity, and inclusion from these recommendations is demoralizing to those of us who fight for them daily. We were suffering before the pandemic and desperately so within it. Many of these investments will not touch or benefit students with dis/abilities if we do not plan for them. Many of these students are profoundly segregated, excluded, and stigmatized.

    The compounded impact for those students with dis/abilities who also face barriers related. to income, language, race, etc. are also not envisioned at all. Talking about ILPs point to IEPs that are not supported and lack resources. Universal access and universal design for learning would help students with dis/abilities and all students but do not figure in the way we imagine and plan. We can do so much better and must! EdSource: please lead in centering those conversations.

  5. Jim 3 months ago3 months ago

    “The brief was developed by working with Black, brown, Asian Pacific Islander and low-income students to lay out their blueprint for an education system that is built to support every student to thrive”

    Note that that cohort does not include “every student”.

  6. Nancy Rieser 3 months ago3 months ago

    How are expenditures monitored? A local school district here is in the midst of an underfunded bond construction project. How can we make sure that Covid money is not siphoned off into a building fund? Is there a list of what the money can and cannot be spent on?

  7. Luis 3 months ago3 months ago

    I agree that school will need to have a focus on ways to bring kids back, but this is typical of education. To those that have been shielded from the over dogmatic social, and cultural teachings in education, even though 85% of the teaching force is white – this is nothing new. In low income schools where nonwhite kids attend, this has been the standard for years. Teaching "liberation against oppression" is nothing new – but … Read More

    I agree that school will need to have a focus on ways to bring kids back, but this is typical of education. To those that have been shielded from the over dogmatic social, and cultural teachings in education, even though 85% of the teaching force is white – this is nothing new. In low income schools where nonwhite kids attend, this has been the standard for years.

    Teaching “liberation against oppression” is nothing new – but what do you expect when you have a teachers union who does not want kids to test (revealing of course how low academically students really are) and encourages such cultural dogmas regularly? Remember, there was a huge performance gap before Covid; you think restorative circles and such will address the new lows that Covid has created? Do you all really think the union cares about the gap? I don’t. Most teachers, especially union heads, do not send their kids to inner city public schools, do they?

  8. Karen Cowe 3 months ago3 months ago

    Thanks for covering this important new brief, Carolyn. It was great to see the outdoors and outdoor learning referenced as an important consideration. The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative has been busy creating a free Outdoor Learning Library, written by hundreds of subject matter experts from around the country, from many different fields, who volunteered thousands of hours over the last seven months of 2020, to provide guidance for education stakeholders as they consider options … Read More

    Thanks for covering this important new brief, Carolyn. It was great to see the outdoors and outdoor learning referenced as an important consideration. The National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative has been busy creating a free Outdoor Learning Library, written by hundreds of subject matter experts from around the country, from many different fields, who volunteered thousands of hours over the last seven months of 2020, to provide guidance for education stakeholders as they consider options for safely returning students to in-person schooling.

    The free resources focus on guidance for creating outdoor spaces; outdoor strategies for teaching and learning; and physical and mental health and well-being considerations. Here’s the link to the resources: https://www.greenschoolyards.org/covid-learn-outside.

  9. ann 3 months ago3 months ago

    A laundry list that barely includes academics ... newsflash humans on earth have been through far, far more anguish than this pandemic and kids are remarkably resilient. This is an overload of 'socio-emotional' and too little overcoming adversity through work and determination. I've worked in person with students during the entire shutdown, including welcoming kids back to school this month for minimal in person learning. There are actually a very few seriously suffering and … Read More

    A laundry list that barely includes academics … newsflash humans on earth have been through far, far more anguish than this pandemic and kids are remarkably resilient. This is an overload of ‘socio-emotional’ and too little overcoming adversity through work and determination.

    I’ve worked in person with students during the entire shutdown, including welcoming kids back to school this month for minimal in person learning. There are actually a very few seriously suffering and we should assure they get the help they need, some are reflecting their parents and other adults’ fears and paranoia; the vast majority are just fine emotionally, but have fallen far behind academically. “Restorative” practice, eliminate security, bias and privilege training? This is politics not education.

    Replies

    • tomm 3 months ago3 months ago

      I agree with that sentiment, Ann, and am sure there are many others. It assumes that parents are doing nothing to help their kids with the lockdowns (that should have ended a lot sooner). Am concerned there are a bunch of people who are looking for a job with all the money being printed and want a piece of the action. The unions are more than happy to get more unionized employees paying $1000/year … Read More

      I agree with that sentiment, Ann, and am sure there are many others. It assumes that parents are doing nothing to help their kids with the lockdowns (that should have ended a lot sooner). Am concerned there are a bunch of people who are looking for a job with all the money being printed and want a piece of the action. The unions are more than happy to get more unionized employees paying $1000/year in dues.

      The public school system is sliding deeper into politically-driven social emotional mumbo jumbo and ignoring the slide in academics. This makes an argument for a voucher system (like other states are doing, see WSJ 4/29/21) so that we can send our kids to private, non-union schools that don’t have to buy into these misplaced priorities and are not influenced by bought off politicians.