By Mike De Felice
Kitsap News Group
A Central Kitsap student who is at home at night having trouble doing fractions homework can now fire up a computer and connect to a virtual tutor for help.
The unique online assistance system is one benefit the Central Kitsap School District has financed with the $3.1 million in COVID-19 relief money it received from federal lawmakers, district officials said.
The federal government has distributed $122 billion in COVID relief funding to help school districts across the country recover from the impacts of the pandemic. The funds came from three pandemic relief plans – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
The federal money has also enabled the district to hire more teachers, counselors and nurses to support students who have returned to in-person classrooms following what is hopefully the worst of the pandemic. Local students are getting help with education and mental health, according to school officials.
“[The congressional money] has allowed us to add supports and additional staffing to help students both on the academic side and the well-being side,” Franklyn MacKenzie, CKSD executive director of student support, said.
“I think the greatest need for all of our students with recovery now is getting back into modes of school right across K-12,” he said. “You have not been doing school the way you have in the past. It takes a little bit of transition for all of our students.”
Hiring additional teachers with federal money seems to be the main avenue administrators have taken to help students who suffered drawbacks from remote learning during the pandemic.
“Some students have had their grades suffer. They are not passing their classes. We have provided additional staff members to tutor those students,” MacKenzie said.
“To help them improve their grades, we may have smaller class sizes for those students to have more one-on-one time with a teacher.”
Providing students learning assistance in reading and math has been a focus of the district, MacKenzie noted.
“Math is always an area that we want to improve our results. And reading is another area. In order for students to be successful they have to be able to read and understand what they are reading,” the administrator said.
Particular attention is being paid to providing additional math help to students in “transition years.” This includes sixth grade, the first year of middle school, and ninth grade, the first year of high school. These two school years have traditionally been viewed by educators as challenging times for learners.
Efforts to boost academic skills underwritten by COVID-related support have not been limited to the four walls of a classroom, MacKenzie noted.
The funding has allowed the district to provide students with online tutoring from home. This enables a student to get immediate help any time of day with a pesky math formula or get clarification about the Civil War. An online service was contracted to enable students to make Zoom calls and connect with a specialized tutor. Virtual sessions with educators can be made in a variety of subjects ranging from math and world languages to social studies and history.
“It has been very helpful,” he said.
Well-being and mental health services have also been improved using federal money, officials said.
Five additional counselors have been hired, allowing each elementary school to be staffed with a full-time counselor, MacKenzie said. At high schools, half-time counselors were made full-time.
Counselors can work on the social and emotional needs of a student, as well as provide academic advice, he said.
Students and families in need of mental health support can arrange to get virtual mental health counseling with certified therapists, much like the online tutoring service, he said.
“Virtual sessions could deal with a family issue the student is struggling with, or a peer-to-peer issue,” MacKenzie said.
Other new resources made possible with the money include two additional nurses responsible for COVID testing across the district and the hiring of a Spanish interpreter to assist non-English speaking parents to communicate with school officials.
Relief funding is going to all of the district’s 19 schools, he said.
“Each school comes up with a plan to support their struggling students. For example, one school may decide to have a teacher help a smaller group of students in math or reading. For other schools, it could be an after-school program that works for them.”
If CKSD had not received the COVID relief money, MacKenzie said, “We would be struggling to support our students and families the way we need to support them.”