Federal grant delivers help to students

Pandemic-induced learning gaps, particularly for vulnerable student populations, have become an issue on the radar of school administration.

In response, administrators plan to address the concerns with a sum of money from the federal government. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund is a federal grant to support schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Each school is creating a plan to identify students who may have fallen behind so that we can work with  them and get them the support they need to catch up,” Assistant Principal Paula Meoli said. “Money through the ESSER Grant is going to support that.” 

Principal Jefferey Litz said teachers have been looking at data from assessments to identify the students with academic gaps. 

“You may have noticed, if you’re in Algebra 1, Geometry or Algebra 2, that we’ve been doing pre-assessments,” Litz said. “We’re going to do those quarterly to see what skills students remember and which ones they didn’t, and then try to fill those [gaps] as we go.”

English department chair Martha Noone said English classes have employed the same method.

“We have done different diagnostics, and students who are reading two grade levels below their current grade or who show weaknesses in basic composition will have a range of different supports provided to them, depending upon their need,” Noone said. 

Litz said the stark differences between the rigor of academic classes in 10th and 11th grade are leaving him particularly concerned for juniors, since their sophomore year was mostly virtual. 

“Some students found that they learn better [remotely], and then there are students who did poorly in terms of their own mental health and in their ability to organize themselves in a way that perhaps teachers [could’ve] helped them more with in school,” Litz said. 

Social Studies department chair Dean Wood said students have been handling the transition back to in-person learning well. 

“We might have some students with deficits this year because we weren’t in the building last year,” Wood said. “But I feel like the students are doing a great job at trying to fill in those gaps this year.

Science department chair Michael Osborn agrees. 

“The students have shown good rebound skills coming back to in-person,” Osborn said. “I think just having physical labs where we’re actually able to manipulate things physically has been a nice push for kids this year.”

Litz said he plans to use Saturday school, after school sessions and even a tutoring company to help some students get back on track academically. To address the social-emotional aspect of school, Litz’s agenda includes using the funding for advisory supplies, social events and helping parents support their children in school.

“We certainly have a population of parents who either didn’t finish school, are afraid to come into the school, or don’t know how to support their kids in school,” Litz said. “So we could potentially have some parenting classes and some family engagement opportunities to get more of our families involved and know what’s going on in school, how they can support their kids.”

Though the grant will be spent over the course of the next few years, Litz said Marshall could see the effects as soon as the start of the second semester.