Education Department Distributes Money for Middle and High School Student Engagement

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Diving brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Education is distributing $50 million to states to add or improve co-curricular, extracurricular and summer programs for middle and high school students, according to a letter sent to state education officials Thursday.
  • The additional scholarship — provided by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – is automatically sent to states through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. The extra money is distributed based on the program’s FY 2022 formula.
  • Chronic absenteeism, a problem even before the pandemic, has increased for students at all levels in recent years, prompting efforts to boost student attendance and engagement. In the letter announcing the grant distribution, the Department of Education suggests that states and subrecipients focus on school-level practices that are inclusive and support family engagement, as well as partnerships between schools and community organizations.

Overview of the dive:

The $50 million allocation may seem small compared to the $1.3 billion fiscal year 2022 budget for the 21st century program, but the additional revenue has the potential to have positive impacts, said Adam Schott, deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the Department of Education.

“Every dollar counts. It counts for an individual child. This is important for an individual class. And again, we urge states, districts and schools to urgently spend their US bailout funds. These dollars can help ARP funds go even further and reach more children,” Schott said.

In fiscal year 2021, the Education Department awarded 52 21st Century awards for an average of $24.2 million, according to the agency’s website.

The additional $50 million can be used for a wide range of extracurricular activities that meet 21st century demands, such as tutoring, summer programs, and mentoring.

According to Alliance after schoolin spring 2021, 94% of 21st century programs offered homework or academic help, and 91% supported STEM learning opportunities.

Funding for the program, however, has not kept up with demand, the alliance said. Adjusted for inflation, the current funding level is $87 million lower than in 2014, allowing only 1.6 million children to participate. The alliance estimates that 25 million children do not participate in an after-school program, but would if a program were accessible to them.

The letter urged states to prioritize evidence-based practices for middle and high school student attendance and engagement in their upcoming 21st Century grant applications.

The Department of Education suggests schools explore ways to increase student engagement and attendance with these recommendations:

  • Provide a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment. Partnerships with community programs and mental health providers can help students feel empowered about their mental, social, and emotional needs.
  • Connect with families. Gathering feedback from families and meeting outside of traditional formats, including virtually, can contribute to positive communications and relationships. Other proactive efforts include offering home visits and using text messages to promote participation
  • Promote better alignment between curricular and extracurricular services. Approaches typically used during the school day, such as tiered support systems, can also be incorporated into after-school programs to better integrate academic, mental health, and behavioral supports.
  • Implement trauma-informed approaches. To promote a sense of safety, trust, and transparency, the Education Department recommends departmental resources National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments which can be adapted for 21st century programs. Moreover, the You for youth (Y4Y) provides support to staff working in these programs.
  • Establish mentorship programs. Supportive relationships can help students build resilience and increase their mental well-being and academic development. They can also strengthen family-school ties.