by ALEXANDRA RETTER 

 

Federal COVID funding is going toward some smaller class sizes, online learning, and support services for students socially and emotionally at Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS). 

Superintendent Annette Freiheit updated the School Board on the use of about $5.3 million in ESSER funding at its November 4 meeting. The School Board approved a multi-year plan for this funding earlier this fall, and now the district is awaiting the state’s final stamp of approval. 

WAPS put some funding toward reducing class sizes to address learning loss. The district allocated about $793,000 to address learning loss. To date, WAPS has added another fourth-grade class at Washington-Kosciusko Elementary School (W-K), as well as additional fourth-grade art, PE and music classes. These additions allowed the school to reduce class sizes. “I can’t imagine not having that section,” W-K Principal Dawn Waller Lueck said in an interview. “The class sizes would’ve been really large. And it allows the teachers more ability to meet the needs of the students. Especially with the pandemic, we’re seeing all kids are at different places. So we really have to differentiate to help get them where they need to be.” 

The district also added art classes at Winona Senior High School. 

Additionally, WAPS hired an elementary science specialist. The specialist teaches science while teachers provide extra support to students in other classes. “I think it has helped take a little bit of pressure off teachers … It’s also created some good excitement for the kids,” Waller Lueck said. 

The district also plans to use the funding for tutoring. WAPS plans to have a tutoring center at the high school to serve students at the end of the day and after school. The district plans to provide tutoring for elementary and middle school students after school, as well. Local college students studying education could perhaps help with this tutoring, Superintendent Annette Freiheit said in an interview. 

Another key program WAPS planned to cover with $1.35 million of the funding is its online learning, which began this school year. The district has hired a teacher to support students learning online in kindergarten through fifth grade and the special education program, in addition to another teacher for sixth through 12th grade. 

The district also wished to put $385,000 of the funding toward bolstering students’ social and emotional growth and identifying students who would benefit from support in these areas. WAPS has begun putting in place a screening tool that gauges students’ social and emotional skills for students in kindergarten through ninth grade and students at the Winona Area Learning Center. “It’s great, valuable data … It really helps us with kids that we would call internalizers, where we may not ever know about them otherwise,” Waller Lueck said. 

Earlier this year, a group of community members and district staff studied WAPS’ support services, such as counseling and social work. The group recommended improved access to mental health services. Freiheit said based on that, the district wanted to implement the screener to more quickly identify students needing support. That support could come through lessons from counselors to a whole class about a certain social skill or one-on-one work between a student and social worker or counselor, Freiheit said. She said that as the district works through the data from the initial assessment of students, it will analyze where services are most needed and shift accordingly. 

The district also will soon interview candidates for a part-time social work and social-emotional learning coordinator position. 

The district has hired a coordinator to help with the learning plans of students in the special education program, additionally. WAPS has also hired an interpreter and increased the number of hours one English-as-a-foreign-language teacher works. 

Plans are in the works for professional development over the summer, as well. The professional development would center on social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, restorative practices, mental health and cultural competency, among several other topics. 

WAPS will continue its work with a state university on a student-support system, additionally. 

The district will also continue implementing college and career readiness strategies including writing, reading and inquiring. 

Finally, principals will soon begin planning for family engagement activities, such as multicultural events. 

Education@winonapost.com