State launching LEAP: Aims to get kids back to school, keep them engaged

Education

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The state is launching “LEAP”: Learner Engagement and Attendance Program. It’s to help students to be more engaged in their education and attending school after a year of dealing with COVID-19 and the changes that came with it.

Nate Quesnel, the East Hartford School Superintendent warns, “It’s changed. Frankly, right now, we are at a really critical point in our school year. It’s fatigue. “

State officials say enrollment dropped 3% in both private and public schools.

95% of students did not attend full-time in-person classes through January, as many families fear COVID-19.

Dr. Charlene Russell Tucker, the State Commissioner of Education, says families, especially ones with young kids, were nervous. “Getting them out in an environment that was still unknown.”

The State Department of Education is partnering with 15 high-need school districts to fund the $10 million program.

The state used an algorithm to help slice up federal CARES ACT money and Governor Ned Lamont’s Education Relief.

The 15 communities include Waterbury, New Haven, Meriden (which will all split $3.18-million), and Hartford, East Hartford, New Britain, Capitol Region Education Council, and Manchester which will share $3.33-million.

Bridgeport and Stamford will receive $2.43-million to utilize. Norwich and New London split $450,000. Torrington and Danbury will get $1.06-million to focus on LEAP initiatives. Windham is expected to receive $220,000.

There is also $1.1-billion from the American Rescue Plan. State Education leaders say $995-million will go to districts directly. $110-million will be utilized for state focus areas like summer enrichment.

Governor Ned Lamont reminds families, “It’s about seeing your friends and having fun and being ready to learn come September.”

Congressman John Larson, who represents the first district and is on the Federal Ways and Means Committee, helped get the money for the state. Larson says kids need structure over the summer and day-to-day. “We are concerned about the child after the school day.”

At Thursday’s roundtable with the governor and the education officials, they discussed the potential of changing the definition of a typical school day.

Matthew Geary, the Manchester schools superintendent is excited:

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shake up how we think about learning.”

He and others want to redefine time in the classroom seat. Maybe it’s not 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 10 months a year. The governor is supportive of the “experiment.” Especially, in light of many teens who have to work.

Dr. Leslie Torres Rodriquez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools is concerned.

“The last thing that I – that we – should be doing is having a student chose coming to school or having their family meet their basic needs,” she said.

Hartford’s outreach includes making 5,000 home visits, and 172,000 phone calls to make sure families are engaged.

Mayor Luke Bronin expressed his angst as well, saying, “My biggest fear is that the disruption of this past year is going to derail young people for years.”

The state education commissioner is not ready to provide guidance on the idea of a “new school day.” Leaders say “stay tuned” for any potential changes. They are looking at ways they can be flexible with the typical school day. Whatever they decide they want it to work for families.

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