At the May 26 West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) board meeting, trustees approved the district’s Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) Grant Plan, detailing how the district will use the grant to carry out a learning recovery plan for students who are up against serious social-emotional and learning obstacles.

Trustee Angie Lewis was absent for the meeting. The Extended Learning Opportunities Grant is one of two that the WSCUHSD is receiving through California’s AB86 COVID-19 relief package.

Per the plan’s document, the learning recovery program must support at least one or more prioritized groups including “low-income students, English learners, foster youth, homeless students, students with disabilities, students at risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, disengaged students, and students who are below grade level … credit-deficient students, high school students at risk of not graduating, and other students identified by certificated staff.”

Superintendent Toni Beal said the plan was “part and parcel” to the district’s development of its Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). According to the plan document, the funds for putting the learning recovery strategies into place total to $1,263,615.

The superintendent said the district intends to use the one-time funding from the grant to provide a number of services for the coming school year, but to integrate the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to continue the services into the year after.

The document states that there is a three-year plan to integrate the grant funding with federal

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to continue these additional services past the 2021-22 school year, through the 2022-23 and 2023-24 years.

Per the plan, the grant budget process will involve assessing what programs the district will continue through the 2023-24, assessing what programs will go on up through the 2023-24 school year, with stakeholder participation and “utilizing data provided through academic testing and surveying parents and students.”

In the immediate sense, Beal described the plan to use the grant funding to bolster the district’s summer school program that runs from June 14 to July 22, which will be held in an independent study format with an in-person option at the El Molino campus to get students additional assistance with English and math.

Beal said the grant funding would allow the district to provide an academic counselor, a mental health counselor and two bilingual paraeducators on campus for students in summer school, in addition to the purchase of the Exact Path remediation software.

For the coming school year, Beal announced that the ELO grant would allow the district to provide academic support classes, a mental health support class, a math support class, paraeducators to further assist students in classes and a learning lab for the coming school year.

Further, the funds would help the district offer two additional math classes and another English class for freshmen so their class sizes could be smaller, she said.

A number of uses go toward supporting English Language Learner (ELL) students and their families, according to Beal. She said the grant would help fund another ELL support class, ELL coaching support for teachers and a bilingual family engagement specialist.

“And this was a conversation we had with our English Learner stakeholders, talking about how critical it is that there be someone who can speak Spanish and be able to work with our English Learner families and students in order to help them better access their education,” she said.

In addition to funding professional development for teachers regarding learning loss and student mental health, the superintendent said the Extended Learning Opportunities Grant would support hiring additional mental health counselors and increase academic counseling as well.

At the moment, the district has two outreach therapists and three additional interns, she said, but the grant would allow the district to bring on a fourth mental health counselor and continue offering additional hours for the district’s current outreach therapists.

As for academic counseling, Beal said the district is so far set to offer the equivalent of four and a half counselors at the consolidated school and one half-time counselor at Laguna High School. The proposal the district puts forward now is to bump up to five full-time counselors at the consolidated school in Sebastopol and one full-time academic counselor at Laguna, according to Beal.

Marilu Saldaña, an El Molino school counselor, voiced that recruiting more counselors was something for school counselors to celebrate, but that she was concerned the district is behind on recruitment compared to other districts.

Moreover, she asked if the district could at some point consider offering a “bilingual” stipend for school counselors that also do translations.

“It’s so essential, so much needed, and I think that would be a plus in this process. As a bilingual school counselor, I’ve never had a stipend for all the translations that I’ve done over the years as a school counselor in the district,” she said.

Other community members attending the meeting emphasized the importance of providing mental health supports for students, especially with regards to the emotional stress of the consolidation of Analy High School and El Molino High School.

El Molino parent Gillian Hayes, also a founding member of the Community Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE) legally challenging the district’s move to consolidate, asserted the funding could be used to maintain smaller class sizes by keeping El Molino open. She urged the board to consider the students’ mental health in the wake of the pandemic and to slow down the consolidation process.

Trustee Laurie Fadave and Board President Kellie Noe both said they appreciated the funding going to increasing services for bilingual students and supporting Spanish-speaking families.

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