AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — As Aurora Public Schools applies for more coronavirus relief funds, the district has taken a look at how it responded to the pandemic.
Congress set aside $13.2 billion from the 2020 coronavirus relief package for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which awards grants to state education departments for local distribution.
The district, formally called Adams-Arapahoe 28J, said its engagement efforts are required for it to get money from the fund, which “will be critical to (their) recovery over the next three years.”
Its findings were mixed. Although the district distributed technology to help keep students engaged, barely more than half of students last winter reported that they were engaged in their schoolwork, compared to almost 80% before the pandemic.
Hybrid learning environments proved to be a struggle, and school communities strongly disliked them. The district reported that supports for the model were “not sufficient and did not happen as quickly as was needed. The models all shifted multiple times throughout the year between remote, hybrid and in-person learning, which were “disruptive and difficult to navigate.”
Remote learning sites were created for students who absolutely needed a place to learn during the pandemic, but guardians were frustrated that the locations were outside of schools without provided transportation.
Some notable successes were pointed out. The district credits strong community support of its three bond measures since 2002 for its ability to install and maintain air-conditioning systems in all its schools, which “were critical for transmission mitigation” throughout the pandemic.
A 2018 mill levy override also allowed the district to invest heavily in mental health supports for students and staff. More than 100 counselors and mental health professionals had already been hired before the pandemic, and a total of 258 served the district throughout the pandemic.
The district’s report narrowed down to the following lessons:
- Equity must be at the center of any systemic-level response
- APS is more nimble as an organization than any of us may have thought and the APS community adapted to our new remote learning and working environment quickly
- Engagement and communication is more effective when it is direct, ongoing and dynamic
- As a school district, we must always understand the basic needs of students and staff while considering the role of those needs in setting students up for successful learning
- Embracing innovation is not the same as rejecting the APS experience or status quo
- Strong and trusting relationships are built through both frequent formal and informal interactions between students and staff. These relationships are key to keeping students safe, healthy and supporting student engagement and learning
- Ongoing and strategic investment in strong physical/organizational infrastructure is key to maintaining stability in leaning environments