LEARNS grants will help schools recover from the pandemic LEARNS grants will help schools recover from the pandemic

MARTINSVILLE ─ Students in Henry County need some extra help this summer. Like many other districts in the Commonwealth, this past school year’s challenges hit the Southwest region of Virginia hard. And while some students in the county actually thrived with remote learning, most fell behind.

“There is evident learning loss,” said Henry County Public Schools (HCPS) Assistant Superintendent Lisa Millner.

Millner came to this conclusion after conducting a study on the academic performance of students in the county. Even after the switch back to in-person instruction, she says her staff found that wasn’t enough to catch everyone up.

“We know that our students will need intensive small-group instruction,” Millner said.

That’s where LEARNS grants can help.

To combat learning loss in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced in May that districts could apply for part of Virginia’s $62.7 million LEARNS fund. LEARNS, or Leading, Engaging, Assessing, Recovering, Nurturing and Succeeding, is a grant program that the Virginia Department of Education manages.

“This funding will enable school divisions to offer extended learning opportunities for those who have fallen behind, and create targeted programs to address the impacts of lost instructional time during the pandemic,” Northam said.

Allocating LEARNS Grants

These grants are primarily funded through two sources. The Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief II Fund provided $55 million. $7.7 million came from state funds.

The Commonwealth is separating LEARNS grant money into two pots. $30 million will address unfinished learning. $32.7 million will cover costs associated with planning and implementing year-round or extended-year calendars.

Unfinished Learning

In February, the Commonwealth brought educators together to develop guidance for the government on how it can help districts recovering from the pandemic. They recommended that the Commonwealth set aside $30 million of the fund for some specific learning loss mitigation strategies.

Districts can apply to use this portion of the money to increase in-person instruction and small-group learning, create alternate learning opportunities, and extend instruction and enrichment activities. Plus, schools can apply for these grants to provide staff with technology training, and to pay for behavioral and mental health supports for students and staff.

Extended Learning Opportunities

The state’s distributing the remaining $32.7 million based on a recommendation the workgroup made in April. It indicated school divisions need to consider extended learning opportunities and summer school schedules to mitigate the effects of learning loss.

The 2021 Virginia Teacher of the Year, Anthony Swann, was a member of the workgroup. He believes it is imperative that schools follow their recommendations and extend student learning opportunities next year.

“This grant money helps our school divisions to know that they are being supported in every way possible, to promote student growth across the Commonwealth,” said Swann.

Southwest School Divisions Planning Extended Hours

Henry County schools have applied for a grant. They want to use the funds to support six weeks of summer school and after-school enrichment programs. According to HCPS Director of Communications Monica Hatchett, they’ll also use it to cover transportation costs.

“We do not want transportation to be a hindrance for our students at any level, therefore this grant funding will assist with those needs,” Hatchett said.

Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) hopes to use LEARNS grant money similarly.

They want to fund extended school hours, which will require paying tutors and retired teachers to work one-on-one with students.

“We’ve had a lot of learning loss due to the fact that we haven’t been in-person,” said CCPS Superintendent Mark Burnette.

Aila Boyd is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at info@vadogwood.com.