Funding approved for return to school

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 9:24 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding for West Virginia schools was approved Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

A total of $761 million will be given to the state as part of the American Rescue Plan, and the most recent $254 million will be spent on the transition from returning to school buildings to recovering for the future.

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) plans to focus on social and academic issues, the decline in academic performance during the pandemic, and helping the large number of high school students who failed to earn necessary credits.

The WVDE’s federal programs officer, Melanie Purkey, said schools in all 55 counties should return to full-time in-person instruction this fall. In addition to continuing COVID-19 vaccinations and safety precautions, the funding will be used to assist these schools with the transition back to learning in a classroom despite all the lost instructional time during the pandemic.

“The thing that encourages me is that most schools are focused on staff and people,” Purkey said. “Because they realize that it is caring adults that are going to help these kids get back to where they were, not just instructionally, but also social and emotionally.”

Purkey said first-graders will be entering school this year without a normal kindergarten experience to prepare them to learn. High school freshmen will also need help working in small groups and learning how to be collaborative on projects, something that is normally enforced in middle school. This money has allowed some counties to hire extra teachers to allow for smaller class size, social workers to help with mental health problems and aides to assist in classrooms.

“We need to have the supports in place to allow that time that is needed when kids get back in school to establish those behavior patterns that are expected in school,” Purkey said. “If you have spent a lot of time in isolation, a lot of time at home, just the patterns of getting up and coming to school on time in the morning for those little kids. I know we had some school systems this summer with little kindergartens dealing with how do we form lines, and how do we move around the school and around the classroom appropriately.”

CLICK HERE for a county-by-county funding breakdown

Cabell County Schools is looking to provide additional supports to its students with this funding. Superintendent Ryan Saxe said the goal is to increase the number of teachers, nurses and counselors in schools when students return.

Milton Middle School is also running summer programs in an effort to make up for the loss of instructional time, Principal Curt Mann said. Teachers at Milton Middle School said students did not lose as much knowledge as they expected, based on end-of-year testing, and are hopeful a little bit of tutoring and support can get them right back on track.

“It’s people, not programs, that make a difference for kids,” Mann said. “We have been able to hire some really good people in those positions. That’s really important to fund those positions for that extra help.”

“The hardest thing was not seeing them day in and day out every day,” Mann said about remote learning. “In some of those kids, in some of the situations they are in, you just don’t know what they are going through every single day. To have that back, and to get back in that rhythm of seeing those kids every day, and being able to provide services that they need, is what we need to be doing.”

County fund use plans are due by Aug. 1, 2021, in order to get part of this new federal money. Purkey said her team has already met with 35 counties and has meetings scheduled during the coming days with the remaining school systems.

Kanawha County’s plan asks for $82 million to put towards learning recovery, health and infrastructure improvements. The county hopes to spend $25 million on hiring additional teachers, tutors and aides to help students through the transition with in-school, after-school and summer programs.

Kanawha County Schools wants to spend an additional $14 million on HVAC upgrades to improve indoor air quality and reduce the spread of viruses, like COVID-19.

The public comment period on the Kanawha County plan is open through 4 p.m. on July 16. You can submit your opinion on how the money should be spent by CLICKING HERE.

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