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ESSER in Action - April 2022

Students, staff and families in our district are benefitting from the Federal Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). Congress approved this fund to help school communities during and post-pandemic. Our district is focusing these resources in areas that will provide the most significant benefit.

In 2021, we introduced Next Level Learning, our enhanced summer school program. In 2022, we will host Next Level Learning at 37 sites in June and 30 sites in July, along with extra learning acceleration camps and experiences. ESSER funds make this program possible, including a pay increase to $40 an hour for Next Level Learning teachers.

“Next Level Learning 2022 will connect literacy and math to the themes of STEM, nature, sports and the arts,” Susanne Cramer, executive director of school improvement, said. “Each day, teachers will dig into priority skills and concepts linked to grade-level standards. Students will also have access to amazing enrichment opportunities to grow critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving.”

As of April 1, more than 1,100 staff members have expressed interest in serving during Next Level Learning. Currently, more than 3,000 students are registered, and our district’s goal is to serve at least 5,000 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, Cramer said.

In 2020, we became a 1-to-1 technology district through deploying ESSER funding. Omaha Public Schools provided iPads with LTE internet access for digital learning to more than 53,000 students in less than two months. We will continue using ESSER funds to provide LTE access, connecting students to learning outside the classroom. We are also beginning to add Apple TVs in classrooms, which makes it easier for students and teachers to share content from their devices.

“I am now able to have a fully mobile whiteboard to teach my lessons,” Madison Richards, Math teacher at Buffett Middle, said. “My students love that they are able to see me work out the problem from start to finish and I am able to move around and help them while I do this. It will prove to be a huge asset in my math classroom!”

During this time, additional mental health and behavioral support for young people is important. We have all lived through significant challenges and disruptions since March 2020. ESSER funds provided staff with training and strategies they can use in the classroom to support social and emotional learning.

“Our session on emotional intelligence focused on positive self-talk, envisioning your best self and practicing mindfulness and gratitude,” Josie McDonnell, social and emotional learning supervisor said. “Our teachers who attended this session found this information helpful in their daily life in and outside of the classroom.”

Staff training sessions covered a variety of topics including supporting students with anxiety, depression and other social and emotional challenges, building empathy, self-care and positive coping skills.

Valerie Varas, principal at Crestridge Elementary, echoed McDonnell’s sentiments. “For our community, building a common understanding of how and why we are experiencing the large emotions and a times feeling overwhelmed is a critical piece in the healing to be done next. Providing common language empowers us to correctly identify our feelings at the present moment.”

More than 75 community engagement sessions, data and evidenced-based best practices informed Omaha Public Schools’ ESSER plan. A year into the work, we have a better picture of what can be accomplished within the timeframe.

After another community engagement meeting in winter 2022 and Board of Education approval, Omaha Public Schools will shift $24 million in ESSER funds toward teacher recruitment, academic resources and work for the well-being of students and staff. Read more about our complete ESSER plan by visiting our website.

We will provide quarterly updates through the years to come on our website, along with ESSER in Action snapshots on our district social media channels.