It is estimated that as many as 3 million K-12 students were at a high risk of experiencing minimal or no educational access from spring through fall of 2020. Since then, efforts to reengage students have made progress. However, the pandemic has created additional financial stress, loss of loved ones, and educational and social disruptions that an already overwhelmed school system cannot battle or respond to alone.
Reengaging the young people who lost touch with their schools in 2020 and more recently requires a comprehensive and sometimes individualized approach to address the myriad of supports young people need to be successful inside and outside of school. Now more than ever, it is critical that school district leaders collaborate with a diverse set of local stakeholders, including municipal and county government officials, community-based organizations, and other partners, to foster belonging and inclusion for all students.
A National League of Cities initiative, Rebuild: Addressing Student Reengagement in the Time of COVID-19, brought together a diverse set of stakeholders from across the country. Those stakeholders include national organizations, school districts, municipal leaders, and youth. They developed a set of promising strategies to prepare and organize local reengagement efforts. This report contains recommendations on the following topics:
The magnitude of the crisis is not fully known. However, it is imperative that local leaders deploy efforts to reengage students who are on the verge of disengaging. They also need to reconnect with students who are disengaged from school as a result of the pandemic and prior to the pandemic. Coordinated partnerships with a convened set of stakeholders committed to the same mission can help define and augment existing resources to quickly locate and reengage students. Resources include staffing, funding, and relationships with community members.
Create Flexible Learning Environments such as Community Learning Hubs
Youth who participated in the initiative recall facing:
- Hardships attaining the technology and internet access needed to connect to school.
- Difficulty navigating online learning and familiarizing themselves with digital tools.
- Increased responsibilities as caretakers of younger siblings, children, and other household members.
- Feelings of isolation and difficulty concentrating due to competing priorities at home, which sometimes includes full- or part-time employment.
To maximize in-person instruction and engagement, hundreds of municipalities across the country reimagined the built environment including libraries, recreation centers, museums, and faith-based buildings to support schools in providing essential resources, services, and small-group activities for students.
In Orlando, Florida, Parramore Kidz Zone and Orange County Public School worked together to coordinate Learning Pods. They provided students who lacked the technology or at-home environment to participate in remote instruction a safe place for engagement and enrichment.
Increasing Capacity and Targeted Outreach
Many school employees have restructured their days to conduct personal outreach to students who are chronically absent or disengaged, through phone calls, emails, and door-knocking. Yet, to successfully reengage students, educators cannot conduct outreach alone.
School districts can work with municipalities to create reengagement programs. Reengagement programs provide alternative education and career pathways for youth. When traditional schools and alternative routes work together, they allow youth residents to have more ownership on choosing their long-term path. A few examples of district and community efforts include Portland Public School, King County, Boston PIC, and Colorado Youth for a Change.
Mobilizing a Student Engagement/ Reengagement Campaign
While we continue to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on young people, early red flags show a need for short-term responses and long-term preparation to respond to the consequential impacts of the pandemic on youth. Regardless of the learning modality, youth must see that outside of their school, they have a community of caring and loving people. This effort requires the mobilization of various and diverse partners to address the challenges that impact young people's engagement.
The National League of Cities continues to monitor emerging strategies to reengage students and document promising practices amassed from the Reengaging Opportunity Youth in the South Initiative and Reengaging Students Amid the Pandemic project.
Gislene Tasayco is the Senior Specialist at the National League of Cities
Tasayco works within the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities, a membership association that represents the country’s 19,000 cities, towns, and villages along with 49 state municipal leagues to manage cross-functional initiatives and programs that drive community-centered change through the education landscape.
Audrey M. Hutchinson is the Director of Education and Expanded Learning for the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, National League of Cities. Hutchinson directs several national initiatives to strengthen the capacity of mayors, city councilmembers and other local officials who are interested in addressing the quality of K-12 education, postsecondary and workforce, and afterschool and summer learning in their cities.
Antonia Rangel-Caril is the Senior Program Specialist for the Youth & Young Adult Connections at the National League of Cities. Rangel-Caril works to support cities to expand their youth and young adult reengagement work with the Institute of Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities as a Program Specialist.