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Using ESSA Funding to Meet Student Needs

As an educator, moving from Arizona to Wyoming four years ago was a big change. One difference I discovered right away is that my Wyoming district was much more traditional in their approach to education. While this approach works for the majority of students in small rural communities, I quickly realized that the approaches did not always work for underserved, at-risk students, many of whom were already academically behind, unsure of where their next meal would come from, and sometimes struggling to find transportation to school. Often these students have so many obstacles to learning that the traditional school day/format doesn’t work for them and some end up dropping out. I knew from my experience in Arizona that these students need an education that met their needs, and to do that, we needed to think outside the box.

A year after I arrived in my new Wyoming district, ESSA was signed into law. With it came a new opportunity for my district. Title IV, Part A of ESSA, the Student Support, and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) program, was intended to provide funding for schools and districts to ensure students have access to a well-rounded education, promote safe and healthy schools, and improve the use of technology to increase student achievement. I saw this as a chance to use federal funding to help meet the needs of the students in my district who were not currently being served well.

Districts using Title IV Part A funds must first gather input from stakeholders, create a needs assessment, and then develop a school plan before applying for the funds. So, each school in our district formed a collaborative committee with stakeholders and identified the top problems in each school. After creative problem-solving and brainstorming, ideas for programs to address these issues were generated, and the results were outstanding. For example, in order to address increasing issues involving health and school safety, some school psychologists requested funding for a program and ongoing training on student choices and resiliency. They also recommended implementing a mindfulness program for our elementary students to help with student ownership of feelings and behavior.

Our alternative high school committee proposed several ideas to ensure students received a well-rounded education. They implemented a night school program, and a blended learning program, which included a certified teacher, flexible scheduling and personalized learning with technology to meet student needs and learning styles. They also implemented a parent engagement program to partner with parents and families in supporting student learning and celebrating academic achievement.

Title IV funding helped our district think outside the box, which is necessary to help ensure that all students receive a high-quality education. I am inspired by the collaborative and creative problem solving of our stakeholders and even more by the desire to create solutions to meet the needs of our most underserved and at-risk students. Through ESSA, we have created flexible opportunities to ensure all students have access to an education that meets their individual needs, and that they are receiving the supports necessary for academic success.

Amanda McAdams, a former practicing attorney and 2011 Arizona Teacher of the Year is currently the Director of Elementary Education and K-12 Literacy for Lincoln County School District #2 in Star Valley, Wyoming. Amanda earned her bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College, her Juris Doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at Brigham Young University, her teaching certificate from Utah State University, her Doctor of Education (EDD) from Argosy University and has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northern Arizona University.