Education News

ANWSD receives state grant

VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest School District has been awarded a $238,000 grant through Act 67, a law the Legislature passed in the spring that used federal money to fund “the implementation of Community School Programs that provide students with equitable access to a high-quality education.”

The district will establish a mentoring program, expand afterschool programming, provide more meals to food-insecure families, enhance mental health supports, increase community partnerships, and focus on equity issues, according to an ANWSD press release.

The Community Schools Act is funded by roughly $3.4 million of American Rescue Plan Act money awarded to the Vermont Agency of Education. The $238,000 is intended to be the first installment of a three-year bequest that could approach $750,000, per ANWSD Superintendent Sheila Soule.

Soule said although the Agency of Education may deny or reduce second- and third-year funding if the ANWSD doesn’t make sufficient progress towards developing and implementing the  programs, she expects support for the district’s efforts will remain at a level of up to $250,000 per year.

“We need to reapply in each subsequent year, but presumably we will continue,” Soule said.

The grant specifically went to Vergennes Union Elementary School, in part because 40% of its student get free and reduced-price lunches. But Soule said in an email, “all ANWSD schools will benefit through our existing district partnerships,” including by expansion of afterschool programming at secondary school levels.

Overall, the ANWSD press release stated, “In addition to improving educational outcomes for our learners, this grant will further efforts to support our students’ social emotional health, increase access to health services, and increase family engagement through mentoring and other youth/adult programming.”

Act 67 provides for the hire of a community coordinator, which the law states is a cost-effective move: “According to impact studies, each dollar invested in a community coordinator position returns approximately $7 in net benefits to the school.” The district installed Lynne Rapoport as its Community Coordinator for Health and Wellness.

Also working to oversee the grant will be Director of Learning Gabe Hamilton, Recovery Coordinator for Equity and Inclusion Monica Desrochers, VUES Principal Matthew DeBlois, Director of After School and Summer Programming Tara Brooks, and Soule.

Specific actions the district plans include:

•  Expanding systems of support for learners, including flexible learning environments, with a focus on “at-risk students.”

•  Establishing youth-adult mentoring.

•  Increasing access to mental health supports and other health services.

•  Improving food security for students and their families.

•  Boosting outdoor classrooms, community gardens, outdoor recreational opportunities.

•  Expanding community partnerships with groups such as Vergennes Recreation, Northland Job Corps and UVM Extension.

•  Providing adult literacy education in partnership with the Bixby Library.

•  Developing a “Vergennes Community School Coalition.”

•  Expanding anti-racism training for school personnel.

•  Improving data collection “to understand more broadly the student experience.”

The grant allows ANWSD expand its “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” model that has been in place since 2016.

“The WSCC model is student-centered and emphasizes the role of the community in supporting the school, the connections between health and academic achievement and the importance of evidence-based school policies and practices,” the press release said.

The Community Schools Act emphasizes in its text the value of community schools and students’ access to equitable education whatever their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, language, disability, family background, or family income.

The act cites the Learning Policy Institute’s four key pillars of the community schools approach of “integrated student supports, expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, active family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership and practices,” and calls them “part of a unified and interconnected approach.”

According to the Learning Policy Institute, establishing community schools is also “one of 10 recommended strategies for restarting and rethinking the role of public education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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