LACONIA — COVID-19 changed children’s education all of a sudden, but the return to normal in schools across the state will take a long time to accomplish.
That was the message school board members had for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen during a virtual roundtable discussion on how federal COVID relief funds can best help the schools as they make the transition back to their usual routine.
Schools will need to devote extra resources to help students who fell behind during remote instruction to catch up. More time will be required to help those students with social and emotional difficulties. Teachers and other school staff, many of whom have been required to alternate between remote and in-person teaching and adjust to hybrid schedules, will also need support.
“We’ll need resources to do that,” said Travis Thompson, the chairman of the Exeter Regional Cooperative School Board.
“It’s going to take time for things to get much better,” Shaheen agreed. “It won’t happen in one day.”
She said $350 million will be made available to schools across the state through the American Rescue Act to help districts deal with COVID’s financial impact.
Funds can be used to cover the cost of special summer school sessions where those students who fell behind in certain classes can catch up. Other purposes can include improving broadband access and upgrading classroom technology.
Pam McLeod, a member of the Alton School Board, said using some of the stimulus money to build up the district’s IT infrastructure will be a good investment, along with upgrading the school ventilation systems. But she said the American Rescue Act funds alone will not be enough to pay to modernize the ventilation system in older schools.
Even with infection rates declining and the number of people getting vaccinated steadily increasing some parents and students will continue to be wary about returning to a normal in-school routine for some time.
“It’s going to be a long road to feeling safe,” Brenda Willis, the first vice president of the Derry Cooperative School Board, said.
Shannon Barnes, the immediate past president of the Merrimack School Board, said that district will continue to offer a remote option for students who are not comfortable returning to in-person classes in the fall.
Between 15 and 20 percent of the state’s elementary and secondary school students on average are continuing to receive remote instruction, according to Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association. The percentage is higher in the larger school districts in the southern part of the state, and lower in the more rural districts, largely in the North Country, he said.
Many said that districts will need to provide resources and support to assist teachers who have been facing unprecedented challenges and who have had to shift their teaching methods often on very short notice.
“Our human bandwidth is really stretched thin,” Ege Cordell, a member of the Chesterfield School Board said.
Some participants said districts will have trouble finding enough staff to run the summer learning sessions.
The stress on teachers prompted Shaheen to ask, “Is there anything being done to deal with teacher burnout?”
Christina said he did not personally know of any such initiative.
“That looks like something that needs to be done,” the senator replied.