116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher at Hoover Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, believes federal coronavirus assistance for schools could be used to create more community-based schools in Iowa, like Hoover, that create stronger, more resilient communities.
During an Iowa State Education Association news conference Monday, McMahon encouraged educators, parents and residents to join the conversation around how new funding from the U.S. Department of Education can be used in their community.
Community-based schools, which include food pantry programs, before- and after- school care for students, and more intentional partnership with parents and residents “could be a game-changer for so many students, families and educators,” McMahon said.
Iowa’s schools have been allocated $775 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan, a bill signed by President Joe Biden in March.
The U.S. Department of Education wrote directions for how to use American Rescue Funds in schools, including involving local stakeholders, including educators and other school employees, in meaningful consultation about how the funds should be used, said Mike Beranek, Iowa State Education Association president.
Community-based schools like Hoover in Cedar Rapids implement six pillars of school improvement into their school.
The pillars include teaching culturally relevant curriculum, high-quality teaching and learning, inclusive leadership, positive behavior supports including restorative practices, family community partnerships and integrated wrap around community service support.
The pillars are implemented with the help of a community school coordinator, a needs-based assessment and school stakeholder problem-solving teams.
This model “lifts up voices of students, parents and staff through a lens focused on the whole child,” McMahon said. “We have stopped making assumptions regarding barriers to student success, and hear directly from students and parents about what barriers exist and work with community partners to find solutions.”
Hoover serves 440 students in preschool through eighth grade. Nearly 85 percent of students are non-white, 80 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 40 percent receive English Language Learning instruction, McMahon said.
This is the third round of federal emergency relief schools have received since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
“This funding stream will continue the process of returning to safe, in-person instruction to focus on promoting health and recovery,” Beranek said.
The funding can be used to offer summer school, improve air quality in schools, train staff, purchase personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, hire additional staff such as school nurses, provide support for students dealing with trauma and hire academic interventionists and reading recovery specialists, Beranek said.
“Iowa’s educators have bravely and consistently worked on the front lines of this pandemic, and understand firsthand what their students need,” he said.
Alison Grier, Newton High School Spanish teacher, said her district is considering hiring a reading specialist to address learning loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic with these funds.
The American Rescue Plan has given the district the opportunity to consider “creative ideas” for education, she said.
“I’m excited some of the ideas we’ve been discussing for years can come to fruition because of this money,” Grier said.
“This has been a difficult year,” she continued. “I was scared to death and had no expectation I would survive. I am happy to be here still, and none of my 200 students who came through my door every day had any inkling what was going through my mind. Good can come out of so much sadness and tragedy.”
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