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NEVADA VIEWS: Clark County School District dragging its feet with virus relief money

I taught third grade in the Clark County School District’s summer acceleration program. Here’s what keeps me up at night: With school starting up again in just a few weeks, the district has no visible plan for investing the $845 million in American Rescue Plan funds to help my students recover from the unprecedented trauma and disrupted learning of the past year.

I signed up for the district’s five-week summer acceleration program to help my students regain the learning they lost over the pandemic year. Summer Academy was crucial, but it wasn’t enough. Students benefited from play, socializing with other students, arts and crafts, enrichment camp activities, science labs and social-emotional activities. Though we had some dedicated instructional time on math and reading, it wasn’t nearly sufficient in length or rigor to close the gaps that widened during the yearlong disruption.

That’s for the minority of students who enrolled in Summer Academy. What is more worrying were the students who didn’t show up — from my experience, the students that most needed the additional in-person instruction.

One day in Summer Academy, one of my students raised her hand asking me, with desperation in her voice, if things would go back to normal next year. In a flash, my brain began adding up the individual and collective trauma my students faced during the pandemic. I thought to myself: Students are not ready for the fall. In order to succeed, they need more than a normal school year from the district. They need an extended school day, after-school tutoring (with fairly compensated teachers), more adults in classrooms to allow for individual attention, access to mental health professionals, social-emotional learning curriculum, teachers who are trained to deal with trauma and wraparound services from community organizations.

With $845 million on the table, there is no reason for district students to have a normal school year. We can do so much better. Miami-Dade County Public Schools — the district most comparable to Clark County in size — is gearing up to invest its federal funds into students this fall: $20 million for afterschool programs, $40 million for two years of extended school day, $8.2 million for mental health professionals, $11.4 million for social-emotional learning and mental health teacher training and $17 million for reading and math coaches for students with the biggest gaps.

Unfortunately, our district has no plan for new investments this fall. While districts across America are implementing bold strategies for learning recovery, Clark County has announced a process that will determine the use of ARP funds by March 2022. Rising seniors will have graduated before they see these resources. The lack of urgency with which the district is approaching the pandemic recovery is staggering. What’s worse, the School Board — which has yet to discuss the use of the ARP funding — isn’t slated to convene until after school restarts.

By this point, the ARP money isn’t a surprise. Starting in March, volunteers with Igniting Nevada’s Education System Together (INVEST) polled more than 100 district students, teachers and parents on how those on the front lines of education thought the $845 million should be spent. Their ideas match what Miami-Dade is proposing for South Florida students.

Districts around the country are listening to the community and making similar, urgent choices. Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are adding counselors and mental health professionals. Dallas is hiring 1,200 new tutors.

Understandably, it’s a challenge for a district that has been financially starved for so long to imagine what to do with these kinds of resources. And there is wisdom in taking time to plan and seek input. But our students are going back to school on Aug. 9, and they have enormous needs that will have to be addressed on Day One, regardless of what the district does. As a teacher, I only hope I’ll have the resources in place to keep my students from falling even further behind.

It’s not too late for the Clark County School District to make the right investments for our students.

Wissam Tekarli is a third-grade teacher in the Clark County School District and a leader in Igniting Nevada’s Education System Together (INVEST).

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