COVID has undeniably changed education, and as schools, districts, and states move forward with educating students in a new reality, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is focusing on student learning and student safety.
MDE is investing up to $49 million of its American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds in four new services to support student safety and learning statewide.
“These student and school support services will help all district and school leaders manage the challenges of the pandemic and help students accelerate their learning,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Along with a system to make schools safer, we are offering districts services that will give students access to high-quality content, college and career planning tools, and live tutors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
All school districts have the option to subscribe to the services, which are being provided at no cost to districts. Districts that decide to implement the new services will have free access to them through the end of the ESSER III funding cycle, September 30, 2024.
The four new student safety and learning services include:
Health and School Safety Platform (nSide)
The web-based the nSide platform enables schools and districts to develop and implement stronger health and safety plans that protect students, teachers and staff. Features include an emergency alert system to first responders, surveillance cameras that detect crowd congestion, and a system to create detailed campus maps and building floor plans with georeferenced images that give first responders precise locations.
The nSide platform offers a variety of functionality to ensure that schools and school districts are complying with safety protocols, ranging from required active shooter and severe weather drills to plans for social distancing and COVID measures, in their emergency plans, said Brian McGairty, MSDE’s director of Safe and Orderly Schools.
Web-Based High-Dosage Tutoring (PAPER)
PAPER provides students in grades 3-12 with online access to English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics tutors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Districts that sign up for this service will be able connect their students’ courses to the tutoring platform so tutors will have access to the course content and assignments.
College and Career Readiness Platform (MajorClarity)
The MajorClarity computer platform manages college and career readiness goals and automates the Individual Success Plans (ISPs) for each student. More than 40 Mississippi districts currently use MajorClarity for their ISP system. This platform manages college and career readiness goals and plans for students in grades 7-12.
Online Learning Resources
These supplemental digital subscriptions offer districts online learning resources for English Language Arts, mathematics, science, and social studies for students in grades K-12. Teachers can assign tasks, or students can use the resources to help with their assignments. Students will be able to use the resources at home and during school breaks. Resources include Discovery Education, HOMER Learning, Newsela, Imagine Learning, Gale and News-O-Matic.
Through the state’s Mississippi Connects initiative, every teacher and student received a new device, along with expanded access to broadband. And on the heels of that connectivity came increased digital and online learning opportunities–along with better access to support services, including mental health services.
“We felt it was important to follow up on that,” Wright said. “Now you have the device, but what can we do to provide students access to high-quality materials that are digitally-based? We’re hearing a lot about the mental health needs of students. We, as a team, felt those had to be priorities for us. And school safety goes without saying, all the time.”
In addition to these four focus areas, telehealth and teletherapy will be available through a partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “Within 18 months, we’ll have telehealth and teletherapy expanded across the entire state,” Wright said. “That was in response to teachers and students talking about different mental health issues they’ve experiences across the past two years. This will give them immediate access–particularly in rural areas–to mental health.”
MDE is also partnering with five universities to establish a teacher residency program. Over the next two years, the state will pay for all tuition, books, and fees for selected students, who will earn a graduate degree in elementary and special education. The partnership will produce more than 200 teachers for Mississippi.
“We want these teachers to reflect the diversity of our state and return to areas of our state that are hardest hit in terms of teacher shortages,” Wright said. “It’s a great incentive for someone who wants to change a career or finish their education.”
These priorities get to the heart of education’s top priorities, Wright said.
“I’m a classroom teacher at heart,” Wright said. “Those things that happen in the classroom, to me, are the most important things we do each and every day. How we support our teachers in our classrooms every day–that’s where our first priorities are. What do teachers and leaders need? What have we been hearing over the past two years?”
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