116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District is planning to allocate more than 50 percent of its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding to learning loss over the next three years.
The district received $32.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education and American Rescue Plan to help offset costs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re taking this very seriously to make sure we’re allocating these dollars as best we can,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said during a virtual community input session Tuesday.
This is the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds since the beginning of the pandemic. School districts are required to receive community and staff input on the plans, then submit them to the Education Department in August.
School districts will be reimbursed by the Education Department for the funds as they show evidence of how the money is being spent.
The district is committed to recovery of learning, particularly in core instruction, which includes literature, math, science and social-emotional learning.
Right now, 2,200 Cedar Rapids students are involved in summer school programs through the district. More are engaged in summer school programming with community partners, Bush said.
Nothing, however, replaces every day learning at school, Bush said. Additional professional development opportunities for administrators, teachers and other staff — including paraprofessionals — will be offered, and staff will be compensated for their time, Bush said.
Recovery of learning cannot happen without every teacher, bus driver, custodian, parent who is holding their child’s hand, school building leadership and administrative assistant and “every community member saying, ‘Yes, I’ll help,’” Bush said.
Additional classes, staff planned
Five additional preschool classes are being added to the district this fall for students who didn’t have access to preschool because of the pandemic, Bush said.
“We have data that shows children who have access to preschool come in more kindergarten-ready than children who don’t have that access,” Bush said.
Learning recovery efforts also will be concentrated for incoming kindergarten, first- and second-grade students this year. Additional staff will be added to support those grade levels, Bush said.
Older students who might be “disengaged” in learning might need a different opportunity such as a magnet school program or Iowa BIG, Bush said.
Magnet schools provide students with more hands-on experiences than the traditional school model. The Cedar Rapids school district has magnet schools specializing in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — leadership and sustainability.
Iowa BIG is a program for high school students to team up with businesses. This gives its students the ability to learn and use real-world skills such as leadership, accountability and teamwork on projects in which they have an interest, while earning high school credit.
Mental health resources and more
Mental health, technology, facility maintenance and personal protective equipment are some of the other priorities of the district.
There has been an “increased need” for mental health resources for students during the pandemic, Bush said.
The district is working with community partners such as Tanager Place and Four Oaks, which have certified mental health therapists, to increase mental health support for students.
At the start of the pandemic, the district put personal devices in to the hands of every student, accelerating the districts timeline by several years. Bush noted the district had intended to have a two-to-one ratio of laptops at the elementary level by 2024.
The district will continue to prioritize having devices for every student, Bush said, which includes making sure they have access to the internet at home.
“Shout out to community partners who have helped us so much with internet access, including hot spots for kids,” Bush said.
The district also is investing in facility maintenance and personal protective equipment, including increasing the custodial staff.
Although masks no longer can be required to be worn by staff or students by school districts, Bush said it’s still important everyone has access to protective equipment.
“We need to continue to allocate resources, especially now that we’re seeing different strains of COVID-19 surfacing,” Bush said. “We will continue to mitigate and keep our environments safe.”
The district is working to allocate more funds to schools identified as Title I — which have a greater population of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, Bush said.
“It’s hard to recover learning in just a few months,” Bush said. “This takes time, developmentally, and we have families that have experienced two crisis or multiple crisis due to the pandemic and the derecho. They were displaced or became homeless.”
"We’re trying to create systems that are sustainable — that we can continue to grow and learn from after this dollar allocation.“
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