Student Achievement

Chicago Is Spending Millions to Get Students Back on Track After COVID-19

By Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune — July 01, 2021 4 min read
Pre-kindergarten teacher Sarah McCarthy works with a student at Dawes Elementary in Chicago on Jan. 11, 2021. Chicago Public Schools has launched an initiative aimed at reengaging at-risk students and ensuring they’re back in the classroom once the city’s public schools fully reopen in the fall.

Targeting more than 100,000 students considered the hardest hit by COVID-19 and months of remote learning, Chicago Public Schools has launched an initiative aimed at reengaging at-risk students and ensuring they’re back in the classroom when the city’s more than 600 public schools fully reopen in the fall.

The $525 million Moving Forward Together program — a two-year effort funded by federal COVID relief money — will include strategies promoting strong attendance for all of the district’s roughly 300,000 students.

CPS has also prioritized for extra support about 18,000 students who face the greatest challenges getting to school and will receive one-on-one interventions, home visits and access to summer school remediation.

An additional 84,500 CPS students have been identified for targeted interventions, such as phone calls to parents, and enrollment in credit recovery and bridge classes.

With students returning to fully reopened schools in the fall, the expansive pandemic recovery initiatives are “an essential imperative to reengaging with students who have become disconnected from our school communities ... and all of our students,” Michael Deuser, CPS chief of college and career services, said at a Board of Education meeting last week.

“Summer is a hugely important opportunity to reengage students,” Deuser said. “There are out-of-school challenges and stress that are unprecedented and have affected our students and their families.”

Hiring tutors for literacy and math

Included in the pandemic recovery program is $25 million to hire and train 850 literacy tutors for kindergarten to fifth grade and math tutors for sixth through 12th graders “at schools with students who most need support,” CPS officials said.

The investment is intended to “help the district reach its goal of ensuring all students are proficient readers by the end of second grade, which is a benchmark for long-term success,” officials said. Extra resources will be heading to schools on the city’s South and West sides, which include communities most impacted by the pandemic.

CPS also plans to spend $6 million to provide 200 schools with additional teacher development and leadership training “to support high-quality literacy instruction.”

Forty-seven “highest-need schools” will be supplied with “culturally and linguistically representative classroom libraries and take-home textbooks sets,” and 75 schools will get extra funds to pay for “multigenerational, culturally responsive programming for parents, grandparents, and other caregivers to support literacy development among young learners.”

CPS has also budgeted $12 million to pay for “a pool of highly qualified mentorship and mental health providers, which will support students who would benefit most from additional guidance,” officials said.

In addition, CPS is making an $18 million investment for student transitions and student and family engagement programs, which they said will support more than 50,000 students in “transition years” through programs like Pre-K Preview, Kick Off to Kindergarten, Freshmen Connection and Sophomore Connection, along with postsecondary transition initiatives and summer outreach efforts.

Summer jobs will be made available to 800 high-risk students, 200 of whom are expected to participate in the Choose to Change program, which officials said is “proven to reduce violence and justice system involvement among participants.”

CPS also plans to spend $5 million over the next two years to increase the number of school counselors in the city’s “highest-need schools to help ensure CPS students have the academic, social-emotional and postsecondary counseling and supports necessary to succeed in school, career, and life.”

The district is expected to create 64 additional positions over the next two years, officials said, prioritized for schools with the greatest need, and is spending $8 million for summer learning programs to serve nearly 17,500 students.

Additionally, CPS will spend $24 million to double the capacity of its special education summer program to 10,000 students and to extend it by two weeks.

And a $2 million earmark will increase summer school programs for 9,000 students who are English learners, and will support after-school programming for English learners at 150 schools.

In total, around $1.8 billion in federal assistance from the American Rescue Plan Act is intended to be used to help CPS schools recover from the hardships wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, including to ensure that students who were disengaged during the crisis are reconnected with their schools and back in the classroom in the fall.

CPS officials reported at the end of the fall quarter last November, when schools were fully remote, that the district’s attendance rate was 91.3%, down from 94.2% during the fall of 2019.

That rate was 88.1% for Black students, 91.9% for Latino students, 96.2% for white students and 96.9% for Asian students, according to CPS.

Even after students started returning to CPS buildings under an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union in February, fewer than 24% of eligible students attended class in person at least once, according to data released in mid-March by CPS.

Last week, CPS board member Luisiana Meléndez expressed her hopes that individual schools in communities that have suffered the most from the pandemic are able to receive funding for interventions that are “responsive to a very particular need of that community.”

“It may be a community very hard hit by COVID and may be grieving as a community in terms of the loss,” Meléndez said.

Deuser agreed, saying: “We are really putting a premium on flexible funding for schools, because we know that they and their students and the community has experienced everything they have experienced, and we want to make sure it’s as easy as possible for them to be responsive to those needs.”

Copyright (c) 2021, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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