When school buildings closed in March due to COVID-19, Arkansas’ outstanding educators quickly adjusted to what has become a new normal in education. While COVID’s far-reaching effects are still to be determined, we have identified an area that needs immediate attention and support to reduce further learning loss.
Due to the pandemic and shifts in instruction, many students have struggled to adjust and remain engaged in learning. To help districts re-engage students during this critical time, the Department of Education is excited to partner with the state’s Education Renewal Zones and Graduation Alliance to launch the ENGAGE Arkansas attendance and re-engagement initiative at no cost to districts. ERZs serve as a bridge between public schools, higher education, and education service cooperatives with a focus on improving public school performance and academic achievement. The initiative’s support will greatly benefit districts by reducing the workload on identifying, locating, and re-engaging students, allowing them instead to focus on providing necessary educational supports to students both in-person and virtually.
Through this partnership, which also includes the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which will provide additional wrap-around support for students and families, the partners will determine how the pandemic has affected student enrollment and create strategies to find “no show” students, identify “at risk” students who are disengaged, and help keep students continuously engaged in learning.
Graduation Alliance’s Role
- Graduation Alliance will provide outreach counselors who will utilize a multi-modal outreach strategy designed to reach students and families via phone, mail, text, or social media.
- Academic coaches will provide support to assess and mitigate barriers to engagement, including technical access and support, competing priorities, confidence, lack of family support, or stress management.
- The organization will provide first-level support for common technical issues and additional support as needed.
- It also will increase access to telehealth services for general and mental health e-visits.
- With support from Graduation Alliance, each ERZ will develop a plan to use state and local data to locate and provide support to “no show” and disengaged students and their families. Graduation Alliance will provide train-the-trainer consulting to build the capacity of the ERZ to support continuing educational engagement for students who are enrolled in virtual options.
- Upon finding “no show” students within their regions, ERZs will attempt to connect with parents about the educational support options available to students. (The option to participate in the program is decided by each school district, student, and/or parents.) Supports include the following.
- Enrolling the student in a local school.
- Assisting with selecting instructional options (onsite, hybrid, virtual).
- Assisting with school supplies.
- Providing community supports, such as transportation to and from school, etc.
- ERZs will build partnerships with employers, bilingual support networks, and faith-based organizations and will conduct interviews and assist with outreach efforts.
- Working with ADE’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, ERZs will examine the data to determine if there are geographic patterns or suburban/urban patterns or age/grade patterns in districts with larger numbers of “no shows” and also determine if there are districts where enrollment has increased.
- ERZs will facilitate a third-party evaluation to identify the success of the initiative based on regional and state outcomes.
ADE and Graduation Alliance will host informational webinars October 8, 9, and 12. These 30-minute webinars will provide more information about the initiative. Districts are encouraged to sign up to attend any one of the sessions.