coronavirus in new jersey

NJ Reveals Plan to Address Learning Gap, Mental Health Impact of Pandemic on Students

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What to Know

  • New Jersey announced a series of initiatives aimed at bridging the learning gap, while addressing the mental health impacts brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the state's students and educators.
  • On Friday, during Gov. Phil Murphy's coronavirus press briefing, Acting Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan said that "The Road Forward" plan "consists of a series of four coordinated initiatives to assist our students and educators in the spring, next school year, and beyond."
  • "While our schools and educators have done tremendous work in this extraordinarily stressful 11 month to keep our kids learning, we know that students are facing, themselves, incredible stress," Murphy said.

New Jersey announced a series of initiatives aimed at bridging the learning gap, while addressing the mental health impacts brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the state's students and educators.

On Friday, during Gov. Phil Murphy's coronavirus press briefing, Acting Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan said that "The Road Forward" plan "consists of a series of four coordinated initiatives to assist our students and educators in the spring, next school year, and beyond."

The first focus of the plan consists of releasing for public comment a draft request to the U.S. Department of Education to waive federal requirements to administer statewide standardized tests for the 2020-2021 school year. If granted, districts will not be required to administer their suite of statewide assessments this spring.

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"Second, we are releasing two substantial tranches of funding on March 15. In one tranche, the department will establish a pair of grant opportunities totaling $105 million to aid districts in providing additional academic and mental health supports," Allen-McMillan said.

The acting commissioner for the state's Department of Education went on to explain that the Learning Acceleration Grant, consisting of $75 million, is dedicated to providing academic support, including research-based academic enrichment activities in STEM, literacy, and the arts, such as summer learning academies and one-on-one tutoring.

"This grant will reinforce the broader learning ecosystem by funding student efficacy support, professional development, for educators’ formative assessments and programs to engage parents and caregivers through a multi-tiered system of supports," Allen-McMillan said, adding that the grant aims to help lower income districts, although all districts will be eligible. "While this grant will target low income districts most in need of support, all school districts will be eligible for funding. To ensure long term planning and support, awarded funds will be available for use through Sept. 30 of 2023."

Additionally, according to Allen-McMillan, the Department of Education will also establish a $30 million mental health grant to assist districts "in implementing school-based mental health support for all students and educators. This grant will assist school districts in building a tiered, sustainable intervention model of comprehensive mental health support and services."

The other tranche will make $1 billion in federal funds available through the new round of elementary and secondary school emergency relief funding," Allen-McMillan said. "However. these supports cannot be provided in a vacuum. We must continue to use a data driven approach to inform student growth and achievement, which is even more important in the current educational environment. Therefore we will be collecting local interim assessment data from every district in the application of these grants to help identify progress through grade level content standards as well as learning gaps resulting from the current COVID 19 pandemic."

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The third initiative of "The Road Forward" plan consists of providing two assessments in September 2021. The first is the formative assessment, known as Start Strong, which was first offered to districts this past fall and "better enables districts to collect timely, actionable standards-based student-performance data at the beginning of the school year," according to the acting commissioner. Meanwhile, the second assessment will be a kindergarten readiness assessment that the department will pilot this September, which will give participating school districts data on how prepared their students are as they enter kindergarten.

The fourth and last initiative of the plan involves the state's Department of Education releasing a "successful practices that have been identified by chief school administrators throughout the state as effective ways to address COVID-19’s impact on students and educators. Topics addressed include learning gaps and acceleration, attendance, securities and operations. This resource will help school districts identify strategies and effectively leverage all of the funding streams," according to Allen-McMillan.

"One of my top priorities is to provide students and educators with the flexibility and support they need to focus on social and emotional health and wellness for students as we navigate these uncertain times," Allen-McMillan said.

While our schools and educators have done tremendous work in these extraordinarily stressful 11 month to keep our kids learning, we know that students are facing, themselves, incredible stress.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy

Murphy went on to say that the state is cognizant of the stress that students and teachers are under since the start of the pandemic.

"While our schools and educators have done tremendous work in these extraordinarily stressful 11 month to keep our kids learning, we know that students are facing, themselves, incredible stress," he said.

The governor went on to add that "putting programs in place that are well-founded go a long way toward what we have which is the best public education system in America."

"While today’s announcement focuses on the response to COVID-19, [the state's] education vision forward is not a short term effort, but one that we must continue working toward in the years to come," Allen-McMillan said.

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