NATCHEZ – In March 2020, Congress passed the $ 2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which established emergency aid funds for schools elementary and secondary, or ESSER funds, which are scattered millions of dollars among school systems.
Natchez Adams School District is expected to receive $ 31 million in COVID assistance from ESSER by 2024, including $ 2.4 million received in ESSER I, $ 9.7 million in ESSER II and nearly $ 22 million dollars in ESSER III.
Ernest “Tony” Fields, public engagement coordinator for NASD, said the district spent $ 1.6 million on ESSER I and just over $ 1 million on ESSER II.
Concordia Parish plans a total of $ 16 million to be received from ESSER by 2024, school superintendent Toyua Watson said. According to data from the Louisiana Department of Education, the parish received $ 7.86 million and spent $ 3.5 million.
Most of the funds that have already been spent were used last summer on the parish’s Summer Bridge program, a $ 2 million initiative that Watson said was the first of its kind in the seven years it has been running. worked in the Concordia Parish school system.
“Last summer we had a summer program with over 1,700 students,” she said. “To my knowledge, this was the first time that we had organized a summer program of this magnitude.
Watson said the program is about both academics and also “social and emotional re-engagement and learning.”
Participants learned math and the arts of the English language and were rewarded with fun lessons in life skills, such as fishing, makeup, haircutting, music, and art.
“You name it, we did it,” Watson said. “They gave us the right to start spending before the actual funds hit, which got us started last summer.”
The parish has also refreshed its curricula with digital learning and a brand new science curriculum for students in grades three to eight, she said. ESSER has enabled schools in Adams County and Concordia Parish to provide each student with a computer and wireless hotspots for those without high-speed internet.
“We went directly to the programs on paper. However, the world is changing. While there have been some bad things that have happened with COVID, I guess there was a certain beauty that came out of it. It got us thinking about the way we were doing things, ”Watson said. “While there have been drawbacks with virtual learning, it has taught us that it is useful to have a virtual component in daily face-to-face learning. “
Additionally, the parish updated its Teacher Incentive Fund to offer signing bonuses to new certified teachers and reward those whose students show better test scores and to help retain teachers who are already working in the parish. Concordia.
Watson said 80 percent of ESSER III went to school building needs such as updating HVAC systems.
“Most of our schools are very old. 80 percent of ESSER III is moving in this direction, while ESSER II is entirely study-oriented. … We are delighted to have the funds for these much-needed updates in our schools, ”she said.
Watson said the parish is also holding public meetings to get feedback from teachers, parents and administrators on how the remaining funds could be used.
“We don’t spend because we have it. We try to make informed decisions because we don’t want money to drive the process. We want data to guide the process, so we take the time to put together quantitative and qualitative data. The qualitative data we get from holding town hall meetings and listening to our teachers, parents and administrators and wherever there is information. Quantitative data, of course, is test results.
On Wednesday, the NASD posted a social media survey seeking feedback from stakeholders regarding ESSER spending.
“Until yesterday, we have had over 100 responses and we have received good feedback,” said Fields. “The majority of those who responded agree with the way we allocate funds and appreciate the way we use it to improve education. They also appreciate that we used it to purchase PPE (personal protective equipment) and other safety measures. “
To date, Fields said the Natchez Adams School District has purchased air purification systems for all K-8 classrooms, guardrails and clips to ensure a safe distance between students in classrooms and cafeterias; and disposable masks.
“Cordless electrostatic backpack sprayers were purchased to thoroughly clean classrooms and offices. Additional PPE for students and staff has been stored. Water has been bought for the students since the water fountains were turned off. The district is currently looking to employ an additional school nurse to provide health services to our students and assist with COVID testing, ”Fields said. “These measures are being used to try to reduce the spread of COVID everywhere. “
On the academic side, Fields said the funds had been used to provide professional development for teachers and administrators and to purchase new curriculum and educational resources for core content areas.
“In addition, the district hired two technology coaches to help teachers deliver digital education and support virtual learners. These purchases aim to accelerate the learning of our students, affected by the global pandemic. Additional technology was also purchased for learners with special needs.
Fields said the district is also planning an after-school tutoring program to address learning loss and provide social services to students. Social workers have been deployed to schools to meet the emotional needs of students in addition to their academic needs.