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Progress and Promising Practices

Provide your assessment of the top 2-3 strategies that have been most effective in supporting the needs of students in your State during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Please include, if applicable, how your State will submit and encourage its LEAs to submit lessons learned and best practices to the Department’s Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse so that they can be shared with other States and LEAs.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has collected effective and promising strategies through stakeholder input to inform and develop this application. Conversations, focus groups, questionnaires, and written input have focused on both the issues that are of concern to stakeholders as well as the LEA practices that have been successful in supporting students, families, teachers, and communities during the pandemic. Three promising strategies emerging from this stakeholder engagement include the following:

  1. Relationship-building between schools and families;
  2. One-to-one, small-group, and personalized supports for learners; and
  3. Focusing academic plans on relationship-building and caring for learners.

LEAs across Pennsylvania have worked diligently to meet the needs of their communities throughout the pandemic. Stakeholder groups identified schools and districts that were intentional about developing and maintaining engaged relationships with students as particularly effective during this time. Strategies that led to student success included providing activities that intentionally focused on engagement in academic and instructional processes for students, maintaining and supporting active Student Assistance Program (SAP) teams, and frequently using small group supports, one-on-one conferencing, and counselor check-ins for social and emotional well-being. Stakeholders found “inquiring about the student experience [with] learning” and more open conversations between teachers and students to be highly positive strategies.

Relationship-building activities aimed at supporting parents and community members, which included an increase in two-way communication between the school and home, phone calls, home visits, and regular updates on progress and process from LEA-level administrators, were appreciated by stakeholders and deemed helpful to families and students. Stakeholders who work with homeless students mentioned the benefit of providing assistance to the whole family, not just to students who attend the school. Stakeholders mentioned the benefits of “positive engagement,” with school staff taking an approach of “How can I help?” instead of giving families directions. These proactive activities opened the possibilities of engaging school district homeless liaisons and community services to meet families’ holistic needs, positioning schools on the front line of homelessness prevention.

LEAs that put special focus on relationship-building activities in the development of their academic and instructional plans were seen as “caring for our learners,” which fostered a positive relationship with parents, caregivers, and families, and increased student engagement and success in remote learning situations. Connections with a caring adult were cited as especially critical for vulnerable youth, such as foster children.

What worked well did not work well universally, however, and some of the same strategies frequently identified as promising practices, such as school-family communication, also surfaced as obstacles from the perspective of some marginalized populations. This presents a critical lesson when considering ARP ESSER as an opportunity to transform education: effective strategies are only effective to the extent that they are accessible and designed with the intention of meeting students and families where they are. This means providing school communication in home languages, using technological platforms and apps that are free and accessible on low-cost devices, and providing opportunities for families to engage in ways and at times that suit the schedules and workday demands of essential, frontline workers.

As PDE collects additional success stories and feedback from stakeholders, and as these strategies are supported by ongoing data collection, LEAs are being encouraged to submit lessons learned and best practices to the Department’s Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse so that they can be shared with other states and LEAs.