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By Taylor Martin • August 20, 2021

ESSER Funding for Classroom Technology

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) began in March 2020 to support schools in combatting the effects of COVID. There have been two distributions of the ESSER federal funding for schools with the deadline for the third approaching. ESSER funding is designed to close learning gaps and reduce inequities.

Deciding where ESSER funds should be distributed is a difficult choice when considering the evolving needs of students. This COVID relief federal education funding can make a large impact on student achievement when used proactively.

Ridley School District, a long-time partner of eSpark, chose to invest its allocated funds on a differentiated online learning program that met the unique needs of its students. Administrators at Ridley had noticed the academic impact of eSpark on students over the past several years, so the district dedicated a portion of its ESSER funds to continuing the program.

To make this decision, administrators at Ridley weighed the different spending options available to them and involved those who would have a vested interest in the allocation. Here’s what that process looked like:

Understanding Allowable Uses for ESSER Funds

Many items were included in the allowable uses accompanying the ESSER funding guidelines, but there were some cases that stood out to the Ridley School District, including:

  • 20% of the funds must be focused on learning loss and regression
  • Funds may cover startup costs to support program continuity

By understanding the allowable uses of the ESSER federal education funding, administrators were able to identify where they could make the strongest and longest impact.

“We were focusing on the safety portion of things with our ESSER I,” Dana Pinketti, Director of Staff and Program Development at Ridley, said. “With ESSER II we focused more on—and that’s where eSpark came in for us—getting the students back into the building. We wanted to make sure that we had some really key curriculum items in place for them that were more personalized.”

“With ESSER II we focused more on—and that’s where eSpark came in for us—getting the students back into the building. We wanted to make sure that we had some really key curriculum items in place for them that were more personalized.”

With the goal to prevent learning loss and regression, both for current students and for students in future years, administrators at Ridley turned to eSpark for another school year.

Teachers in the Ridley School district, while fully implementing the eSpark program as suggested, are able to group students based on their strengths and weaknesses. Resources curated specifically for the needs of those students are then provided to the teachers. Over time, profiles are developed for each individual student, helping teachers to identify where a student is struggling and why.

“It was an easy way for us to say that eSpark would definitely apply here because it really personalizes learning for students,” Pinketti said.

Prioritizing Integration and Continuation of Programs

When looking at where to invest the ESSER federal funding for schools, it was important for administrators in the Ridley School District to set long term goals.

“We looked at what can we do now that we can sustain overtime,” Pinketti said.

eSpark became part of the curriculum in the Ridley School District in 2014, and administrators have witnessed a lasting impact since.

“It has been a number of years now that we’ve been tracking student success in eSpark and correlating that with scores on our state assessment. There’s been a strong correlation, and that’s part of the reason eSpark was prioritized,” Ray Howanski, Director of Curricular Innovation at Ridley said.

Holding Stakeholder Meetings for Approval of Allocated Funds Usage

To ensure this allocation would benefit those directly involved in its usage, Ridley administrators held stakeholder meetings where they would introduce allocation plans and receive input from the community.

“We gathered together with a group of stakeholders, our community members -- we had teachers, students, administrators, board members,” Pinketti said.

When supporting a plan to use the allocated funds on edtech resources, there are a few characteristics that can make one program or tool stand out above the rest.

Evidence-based intervention is key in demonstrating the effectiveness and the importance of a program. Ridley School District had studied eSpark’s effectiveness for many years, but they can be confident in its ability to supplement curriculum because of its research-based design.

A Social Emotional Learning core is also greatly beneficial to students, particularly this year as they return to the classroom. A program that can measure both a student’s academic growth and social-emotional growth can more accurately depict a student’s overall progress than a standard assessment or curriculum. Upon each log-in, eSpark presents a mood check-in because students learn differently when they feel differently -- this information is then included in reports for the teacher to monitor.

"A program that can measure both a student’s academic growth and social-emotional growth can more accurately depict a student’s overall progress than a standard assessment or curriculum."

Every school and every community will have different priorities when returning to the classroom. It’s important to understand the allowable uses of the ESSER funds, to plan for sustainability and to consider the input of those most directly affected by the allocated funds to ensure that an informed, proactive decision is made. Integrating edtech programs designed to meet the unique needs of each student can ensure that the funds not only meet the usage requirements but also work towards closing learning gaps.

For more information on using federal funding on edtech services, visit our grants and funding page.

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