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This year will be like no other when it comes reengaging students in learning.  

Educators — working with parents and the community — are now planning how to close gaps in learning to get students on grade level. But job one is to address the social, emotional and physical issues that will make academic learning more challenging if they are not met, particularly for the students who have fallen most behind.  

Many students have not seen their teachers or friends for at least a year. They have not been able to borrow books from the library, take field trips or participate in hands-on learning activities.  

That’s why what happens this summer matters.  

It will take a combination of summer school and at least the first six weeks of the school year for students to readjust and get back to “normal.” During this transition period, educators will need to introduce wraparound services that address barriers to student learning. 

As an elementary school teacher in Washington, D.C., who has worked with students before and during the pandemic, I believe summer school should reintroduce students to classroom routines and help them connect with each other, rebuild friendships and participate in outdoor activities. This year, many summer programs around the country, like the one at the school I work at, have been designed to be especially interactive.  

Our students are participating in experiential learning opportunities and are gaining enrichment through reading, math and science, along with swimming, dance and social and emotional learning (SEL) activities. Students are also getting unrestricted time for such things as reconnecting with friends at recess.  

Summer school used to be a place for students who missed a significant amount of work during the school year. Today, it has shed that negative connotation, and the focus is on accelerating learning rather than on remediation. Summer programming in many districts now offers a variety of learning activities and flexible learning schedules.  

Although students who are receiving instruction this summer are making significant strides, summer school is only part of the solution.  

After more than a year of isolation, the best thing we can do for our children is to develop safe and inclusive learning environments that center the student experience and support the social and emotional growth of all students. 

When the school year begins, schools across the country will need to be ready to respond to many of the specific social, emotional, logistical and nutritional challenges students face. It will be necessary to ensure that students enter a welcoming school environment and are given multiple opportunities to engage in a wide range of social and emotional learning activities throughout their entire school day.  

Incoming first graders will need to acclimate to the school environment, learning things like raising their hands when they have questions and helping friends when they fall on the playground.  

And students who were in eighth grade in March 2020 will be entering high school for the first time, as 10th graders, with teachers they haven’t met in person yet, and will need multiple systems of support to help navigate this new environment. 

Related: Summer school programs race to help students most in danger of falling behind 

The school I work at is located in a food desert, which makes it challenging for families to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables. There also are limited transportation options to help students and parents come to the school. Although we’ve been able to assist our families by partnering with various community programs that address these obstacles, that isn’t the case for every community in our country.  

However, there are many proposed and existing programs to address these types of issues.  

The Biden-Harris American Families Plan, introduced this spring, includes one of the most ambitious American investments in education to date.  

In June, with two other teachers from the capitol region, I had the opportunity to discuss how the new legislation could address the needs of students and teachers with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. I supported the legislation’s focus on wraparound services and universal pre-K for families, as I’ve seen the many benefits these services have had in our community.  

The plan would provide resources for low-income families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school year to receive food during the summer. It would allow high-poverty schools to provide free meals to students and make a $1 billion contribution to help schools expand healthy food offerings.  

The legislation would also address the exodus of teachers leaving the profession — a profession that already has a low percentage of teachers of color like myself. The president’s plan would invest $2 billion to support high-quality mentorship programs for new teachers and teachers of color.  

And the plan would take advantage of the expertise of veteran educators by supporting them as they try to take on leadership roles to address key challenges in their buildings. 

In addition, educators who are looking to immediately implement social and emotional learning (SEL) activities can make use of existing funding and programs.  

As part of the March 2021 American Rescue Plan, the government is providing $122 billion in funding for pre-K-12 institutions in order to address the many impacts of Covid-19. This includes implementing strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students hit hardest by the pandemic. There are many outstanding SEL programs, and some have the seal of approval from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).  

For example, Harmony SEL, a CASEL program, is available for grades pre-K through six, with complete lessons and implementation training at no cost to schools, districts and organizations. Harmony helps students learn problem-solving and peer relationship skills and about inclusion.  

It provides schools and teachers with age-appropriate practices and activities that encourage communication, connection and mutual respect among students. I use Harmony SEL to support student’s social and emotional development and to help me grow as an educator. 

As schools open, it is crucial that teachers have access to new options for professional learning, such as on-demand and blended learning opportunities. For teachers who want to develop an inspirational and SEL-informed teaching practice, Inspire Teaching & Learning, a program from National University System, offers 70 free, on-demand, professional development courses and webinars and additional resources.  

After more than a year of isolation, the best thing we can do for our children is to develop safe and inclusive learning environments that center the student experience and support the social and emotional growth of all students.  

Alejandro Diasgranados teaches fourth and fifth- grade English and social studies at Aiton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. In March 2021, he was named the national winner of the 2020 National University Teacher Award, which recognizes a top inspiring teacher who motivates students and supports their social and emotional growth. 

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Letters to the Editor

2 Letters

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information. We will not consider letters that do not contain a full name and valid email address. You may submit news tips or ideas here without a full name, but not letters.

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  1. How can you discuss recovery when we are still in the middle of the pandemic? We have to address the situation right now and stop acting like Covid-19 is over.

  2. It’s no secret that more teachers should be more addiment about the learning abilities, emotional challenges, and the environmental growth of our communities. Teachers like Alejandro Diasgranados allows true empathy to be absorbed in his work with his children. The children understand that they are not alone in their struggles to achieve their desired success, and by allowing them to be apart of that success, also allows them to feel and witness the true academic prosperity. The hope and preservearance become a glimmer of light that can guide their futures. This pandemic has increased their stamina to live, care for, and create a way through their own disparities. The children are and will always be our future, and investing in their success will ultimately pay off. The time is now! The human race must ramp up and continue the proper administration of all our children education. The world is watching and we can’t afford to wait any long. Let teachers like Mr. Alejandro Diasgranados to set the bar on the education of our children.

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