BHS plans to support students using COVID-19 relief money – Berkeley High Jacket

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the educational challenges it has brought, the State of California has given school districts relief money to use as they wish.

According to Berkeley High School (BHS) Principal Juan Raygoza, BHS received approximately $619,000 in one-time relief funds. The purpose of COVID-19 relief funds is to support teachers and students during classroom instruction. The school has until 2024 to spend the money, which has been extended from BHS’ original one-year deadline to give the school more time to make spending decisions.

BHS has already used some of the relief money to help academic departments and areas, such as technology, where increased support was needed to improve student productivity in the classroom. It is also expected that the funds will be used in the future, especially for the Multilingual Program (MLP) and the Visual and Performing Arts Program (VAPA).

With that money, BHS purchased eight Google Chromebook carts this year.

“This pandemic has shown us how important technology is… access for all students and its appropriate use to access education [are]”, Raygoza said. “Our staff here and our students could always benefit from better access… and we don’t have enough computers here for all the students.

Raygoza also said that BHS created Math 1 support classes this year in response to COVID-19 and lost learning time with remote learning. These courses aim to help students in the upper classes to move on to Math 2.

Raygoza worked with Kiernan Rok, the deputy head of the math department, and Monique Duncan-Harris, a lead teacher in the math department, to hire a BHS alumnus as a teacher.

In addition to the programs already funded, Raygoza has visions for future projects and areas that can be supported with the money.

Raygoza said BHS also plans to use the funds to support MLP, a small learning community for those who don’t speak English as their first language and have been attending California public schools for less than six years.

MLP co-lead Daniella Maaze outlined four different areas where the program would benefit from COVID-19 relief funds: technology, mental health, field trips and materials. The MLP will be allocated a certain portion of the funds by Raygoza, and Maaze will decide where this goes with other leaders in the learning community.

In terms of technology, the MLP is looking to increase access to Chromebooks for their students to use in the classroom and at home. The MLP also seeks to increase mental health services for the whole school.

“Everyone needs better access to mental health this year,” Maaze said. “We are still collaborating with an outside organization that provides mental health services like individual counseling and small group counseling… [and] socio-emotional program training for MLP teachers…so that our students are immersed in it.

MLP is also looking to provide students with the ability to take field trips, many of which have already been canceled due to COVID-19, and more classroom materials, such as binders and notebooks.

Harrison Blatt, Deputy Principal, said he works closely with VAPA staff to deliver art-centered projects that aim to build community with students and support their social-emotional development.

“The Department of Visual and Performing Arts has been…highlighted by the administration as one that is very successful in supporting students and creating community and happiness…in school through making art,” Blatt said.

As with the MLP, Blatt is assigned a certain portion of the COVID-19 funds and has the freedom to use it as he and the VAPA teachers see fit. He highlighted some of the proposals, citing three main ones the school plans to move forward with: art packs, art carts and a textile-making course.

Art packs, specifically 500 sketchbooks and pastels, will be provided to students and intended for those not currently in an art class.

“Children struggle emotionally, and having a sketchbook with pastels will give them a chance to express their inner struggles in a private, non-academic, and creative way,” Blatt said. “Studies show that having access to creative ways to express yourself leads to better academic achievement and emotional well-being.”

The art cart would be a cart with various art supplies that would allow students to dedicate time during the school day to a quick workshop on spray painting, oil painting, or other forms of visual art.

The final proposal for textile-making would involve small groups of students joining a teacher during lunchtime to learn how to knit, crochet and create art with yarn.

“It’s totally different [than other areas being funded] because it really targets the joy and social emotional well-being of students through making art,” Blatt said. “[It’s] a great way to use those funds.

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