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Urban Schools Kick Off School Year Emphasizing Safety, Health, and Academic Enrichment

  • Efforts to improve student safety as well as provide students with social and emotional supports are just some of the initiatives urban school districts are implementing for the 2022-23 school year. Here’s a city-by-city roundup of what’s new for ’22 in urban school districts.

    Alaska’s Anchorage School District created a back-to-school (BTS) campaign for the first time by launching a new web page, partnering with the local newspaper for a BTS edition, mailing fliers to families, posting a large billboard and banners in different languages on school property in high-traffic areas, and providing traditional media interviews on various topics (for example, new superintendent, enrollment, safety, bus transportation and mental health).

    Atlanta Public Schools is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a number of events planned throughout the school year. The district also plans to provide physical and emotional telehealth services for every student in its schools by the end of the 2022-23 school year. Hazel Health's school-based telehealth service aims to address the mental and physical health needs of students through doctors’ visits and therapy sessions. The service is specifically designed to provide high-quality services and support for students in kindergarten through 12th-grade – either from a student’s home or from school, using a computer monitor or a phone.

    Colorado’s Aurora Public Schools is using a $2.2-million grant to replace older diesel- and gas-operated school buses with more efficient electric buses. School system officials believe the shift to electric buses will   help the school system reduce carbon emissions and improve the air quality in the local community and save the district money on operating and maintenance costs. The school district is also opening the Clara Brown Entrepreneurial Academy, one of the first K-8 entrepreneurship and invention magnet schools of its kind, according to district officials. The academy will use a project-based learning model to immerse students in hands-on, real-world scenarios that will help them gain valuable skills.

    Baltimore City Public Schools is increasing its Expanded School Behavioral Health program (ESBH) by 25 percent for the 2022-23 school year. Through the program, students in 131 schools have access to mental health support from full-time-equivalent therapists, grief counselors and behavioral-health specialists from local health organizations. ESBH therapists offer treatment to students and staff, classroom observations for students at risk, and group activities for dealing with anger, bullying, anxiety, and grief.

    Alabama’s Birmingham City Schools is increasing mental health services for students through a collaboration with the Alabama Regional Medical Services (ARMS). ARMS will offer free behavioral-health services and wrap-around support for students and their families at six schools.

    South Carolina’s Charleston County School District is launching an online reading platform for students and staff, allowing users to log their reading and compete in district and school-based reading challenges. The district is using the platform to kick off a year-long, 15,000,000 Minute Challenge, in which each school has a community reading goal based on the number of its staff and students, and each reader has an individual goal to contribute toward the 15,000,000 minutes.  

    In an effort to keep students safe, North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is installing body scanners at 21 high schools, with plans to install them at 48 middle and K-8 schools. The district is also opening two new schools.

    The nation’s third-largest school district is launching the Back to Our Future initiative, which works to engage youth who have been disconnected from school for at least 12 to 18 months.  Chicago Public Schools is also expanding access to the Choose to Change Initiative, a mentoring program designed to keep young people who are heavily impacted by violence and trauma on track to graduate from high school and out of the criminal justice system. This program connects these students with intensive advocacy and wraparound supports, as well as trauma-informed therapy.

    Cincinnati Public Schools is launching its “Be Present!” campaign to engage students, staff, families, and the community in being present for students’ academic, social and emotional well-being. The campaign focuses on four key stakeholders: students, teachers, families, and community members and asks each stakeholder to take the “Be Present!” pledge and commit to engaging in students’ lives.

    Clark County
    Nevada’s Clark County School District is expanding its pilot Centegix Crisis Alert system, which allows employees to notify the school safety team of an emergency anywhere on campus through a badge worn by each employee. The nation’s fifth-largest school system is also upgrading cameras on all school buses to allow for more efficient video storage and real-time monitoring capabilities.

    Cleveland Metropolitan School District is implementing a number of safety measures, including upgrading its security-camera system, improving the public-address system and locks on classroom and exterior doors, and upgrading metal detectors. The district is also implementing PowerSchool, an online platform where parents can access their children’s records, communicate with teachers, and submit consent forms. In addition, it is providing all school buses with Wi-Fi, enabling students to stay connected from home to school and back.

    Ohio’s Columbus Public Schools is expanding its Pathway Express initiative, aimed at creating unique, hands-on learning experiences using the greater-Columbus community as its classroom. The Pathway Express program allows students and families to engage in academic and career experiences aligned with the district’s vision for student success, close learning gaps caused by the pandemic, and provide families an additional layer of support during their students’ academic journey.

    Dallas Independent School District is redesigning 43 campus libraries as part of Project R.E.A.D. (Research, Exploration, Application, Design), an initiative designed to help students develop creative skill-sets   through   “zones,” such as video studios, coding stations, and recording booths for podcasting. At each of the campuses, a R.E.A.D. lead will manage the libraries, work with students in using the zones, and support instruction   and collaborative learning experiences with teachers. The space redesign will replace many free-standing bookshelves in the middle of the library with new modular furniture for collaborative work in the R.E.A.D. zones, and will feature new carpet, murals, and technology.

    After experiencing the positive impact of the academic recovery efforts implemented last year, with student growth in math and reading, Ohio’s Dayton Public Schools is adding a high- dosage tutoring model in 4th through 6th grades. This model will reinforce what students are learning in the classroom through small-group instructional sessions in reading and math held during the school day. Similar to the recovery efforts that began last year, this one will enable class-size reduction to provide more one-on-one support to students.

    Denver Public Schools unveiled its Strategic Roadmap, DPS Thrives, built in collaboration and partnership with the community. The roadmap calls for immersing students in rigorous, grade- level coursework in a variety of subjects, beginning in early-childhood education and continuing through graduation and beyond; as well as increasing students’ access to enrichment and extracurricular opportunities. The plan also calls for the district to close the achievement gap between students and to recruit and retain a high-quality and diverse workforce.

    Des Moines
    Iowa’s Des Moines Public Schools is implementing the Let’s Talk program in all 10 middle schools. The program is designed to empower youth to resolve conflicts peacefully and constructively, thus creating a culture of respect and inclusion. The district will begin using the Teacher Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship Pilot Grant to provide opportunities for current high school students and adults to earn a paraeducator certificate and an associate’s degree, and for paraeducators to earn their bachelor’s degree while learning and working in the classroom. The initiative is funded by the American Rescue Plan.

    The Detroit Public Schools Community District is expanding its work with the University of Michigan's Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students (TRAILS) program to provide a universal health and wellness assessment of all students and provide mental health support districtwide. The school system is also expanding its Great Start Readiness Program, which serves students who are 4 years old, by adding 17 new classrooms for the 2022-23 school year.

    District of Columbia
    The District of Columbia Public Schools is implementing DCPS Readers Next Door, a new curriculum resource to support early literacy for students in grades K-2. The series, mostly written and illustrated by district educators and created exclusively for district students, will include more than 100 books featuring ten characters living and going to school in Washington, D.C. The books that comprise the DCPS Readers Next Door series were designed to reflect the school district's commitment to providing culturally relevant learning experiences to all students.

    Duval County
    Florida’s Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville is launching Duval Ready, a workforce readiness program for students in middle and high schools. Students in the program will participate in the “Florida Ready to Work” curriculum, focusing on problem solving, communication, teamwork and professionalism, and the completion of a capstone project. Students who complete the coursework, pass their assessments, and complete the capstone will receive a special Duval Ready designation on their high school diploma.

    East Baton Rouge
    Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish School System is partnering with Louisiana State University to launch the Eva Legard Center for Coastal and Environmental Studies for students in grades 6-12. The center will develop and implement an instructional model that increases student awareness of their environment from a scientific perspective and expand the pipeline of future scientists and researchers who have a solid understanding of environmental issues and challenges in Louisiana.       

    California’s Fresno Unified School District is launching the HBCU Step Up Pathway Program, a dual-enrollment partnership with Benedict College in South Carolina, one of the nation’s  historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Students accepted into the program have the opportunity to earn up to 12 free college units through live virtual classes with Benedict professors. Students who successfully complete the program are guaranteed admission to Benedict College and will have access to summer enrichment, additional academic support, and scholarship opportunities. According to district officials, Fresno Unified is the first school district in California to partner with an HBCU for a dual-enrollment program of this kind.

    Guilford County
    North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools is implementing a district-wide alert system, which will provide simultaneous district-wide notifications via text, email, and phone calls. The initiative is funded by ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief) dollars. Also, in an effort to enhance the security of its facilities and keep its students and employees safe, touchless security screeners will be installed in all the district’s comprehensive high schools. The devices are designed to detect weapons and help deter threats.

    The Hawaii Department of Education is launching a pilot program to provide free school supplies to 20 schools whose entire enrollments comprise students eligible for Title I, to help ensure educational success. Title I is the federal education program that provides financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income families.

    Hillsborough County
    Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa is offering students in thirteen high schools and one middle school accelerated, college-level courses, with the expansion of the Cambridge and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program. AICE is part of the Cambridge Pathway, which allows students to earn an international diploma by taking advanced academic courses and passing exams administered by the University of Cambridge in England. The district is offering its first-ever Montessori Magnet Program at Essrig Elementary School as well.

    The Houston Independent School District Police Department partnered with the Houston Police Department and Ministers Against Crime to kick off Project Safe Start, a partnership to prevent crime and provide additional security for students and teachers as they begin the 2022-23 school year. The district is also launching the 2022-23 Family Friendly Schools Program designed to support every school’s efforts to engage parents, families and the greater Houston community, and to nurture student achievement by helping schools promote a welcoming environment.

    Indianapolis Public Schools is launching IPS Tutoring for All – Powered by Tutored by Teachers, allowing students who attend a district-managed school to meet with tutors virtually twice weekly for one hour in the afternoons, free of charge. The tutoring will cover both math and English Language Arts content areas and use the IPS Pacing Guides to influence instruction, so that students are covering content that aligns with what they are learning in class.

    Jefferson County  
    Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., is implementing a new safety plan that includes the hiring of school-based Safety Administrators in every middle and high school. The district is installing audio enhancement systems in every classroom, which include a small device with a microphone that the teacher wears around their neck. The microphone is connected to speakers in the ceiling so students sitting anywhere in the classroom can easily hear their teacher’s amplified voice. The technology includes a security button that teachers can press to call for immediate help. In addition, the district is opening two elementary schools, including the $17 million Wilkerson Elementary School, which features outdoor spaces that can serve as classrooms.

    Kansas City
    To increase awareness of the importance of early literacy, Missouri’s Kansas City Public Schools is launching a campaign to empower students, staff, and families to make reading part of their daily routine. As part of the KCPS Loves to Read campaign, students in all grades will have the opportunity to participate in a challenge to reach reading goals, and in programming to support social and emotional well-being. In addition, parents will be encouraged to find opportunities to read with their young children throughout the school year. 

    Long Beach
    California’s Long Beach Unified School District is offering full-day kindergarten for the first time. Also, the school district is expanding its Wellness Centers beyond high schools to include all middle schools and has partnered with the City of Long Beach to launch its Space Beach Teacher Externship Program, a professional development initiative for K-12 educators to create streamlined, easy-to-navigate career pathways for students interested in aerospace and related industries.

    Los Angeles
    Los Angeles Unified School District is implementing its 2022-26 Strategic Plan in an effort to ensure that the district is guided by academic excellence, student joy and wellness, engagement and collaboration, operational effectiveness, and investments in staff. The nation’s second-largest school system is also installing career labs at 26 middle schools and partnering with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to provide physical and mental health services for students and families through telehealth services. Wi-Fi has been installed on all district-owned buses, allowing students to maximize the time they spend on the bus to study and complete homework.  Newark  

    As a result of several district-wide initiatives to help attract and retain teachers, including partnering with educator preparation programs, New Jersey’s Newark Public Schools has hired more than 600 new teachers in preparation for the 2022-23 school year.

    New York City
    The nation’s largest school district is implementing Project Open Arms, a comprehensive plan to provide wrap-around services that will ensure asylum-seeking families and their children have access to academic, social-emotional, and language-based supports. The district also partnered with the NYPD to hire 200 school safety agents, and launched Project Pivot, which partners with community-based organizations to provide school-based programming to students at 138 schools. The participating students are chosen based on a combination of data, including the number of incidents and suspensions they have. The district is expanding its network of community schools by 100 to provide academic and health-and-wellness services and supports to students.omha  

    As part of a $409.9-million bond program voters approved in 2018, Omaha Public Schools is opening five new schools, including Forest Station Elementary School, which has a learning stair that provides an alternative educational environment for students.

    Orange County
    Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla., is expanding student access to career and technical education programs, which could help fill vacancies in the local economy’s high-wage, in-demand fields, such as advanced manufacturing and licensed practical nursing. For students in the elementary and middle-school grades, the district will provide opportunities to participate in career-focused clubs, field trips, Shark Tank competitions, financial literacy activities, and project-based learning activities focused on career exploration and experiences. The district is opening five new schools as well.

    Pinellas County
    According to district officials, Florida’s Pinellas County Schools will start the 2022-23 school year as the first public school district in Florida to install the Active Law Enforcement Response Technology, known as ALERT. The ALERT platform allows law enforcement to respond faster and more efficiently during a campus emergency by providing real-time remote access to a school’s cameras, door-locking system, and public address system. The district is expanding its College & Career Centers to all 17 high schools. Nine schools will launch a new peer mentoring program, WE L.E.A.D (Learn-Elevate-Advocate-Develop), in which high-achieving Black male juniors and seniors mentor freshmen and sophomores needing assistance with academics, attendance, and/or discipline.

    Pittsburghpitt bus  
    Pittsburgh Public Schools is partnering with the City of Pittsburgh to provide work-based learning opportunities and paid employment to students in the district’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. The city will provide entry-level, career-ladder jobs to eligible CTE students, who will receive short-term paid internships during the district’s winter and spring breaks, co-operative education placements, and summer and part-time employment. The district is also launching a school-bus safety program that will equip all buses with safety technology, including enforcement cameras designed to detect vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses.

    Oregon’s Portland Public Schools is implementing updated, culturally relevant curricular materials for English/language arts and math at all grade levels, as part of its Instructional Framework for educational equity, which is designed to provide students with high-quality academic learning experiences.

    Seattle Public Schools is implementing new math instructional materials in all elementary and K-8 schools for the first time in eight years. According to district officials, with the adoption of these materials, students in all schools across the district will now have common, standards-aligned, rigorous math instructional material, which provide a baseline for building a strong math program across K-5 grades.

    St. Louis
    Beginning in the fall, St. Louis Public Schools is introducing telehealth care services free of charge to all students, through Hazel Health, Inc. With parental permission, all students, regardless of insurance, will have access to on-demand virtual care from pediatricians and physicians’ assistants. These medical professionals will conduct exams, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe over-the-counter medications, all from the school nurses’ office.

    St. Paul
    Minnesota’s St. Paul Public Schools is implementing several changes in its high schools to better align each school’s programming, schedules, grading practices, and college and career opportunities. The district is debuting a new Districtwide Career Pathways Center, where students from any high school can enroll and access a full range of post-secondary training in high-wage and in-demand careers. In addition, all of the district’s comprehensive high schools will be on the same schedule, which allows students to take districtwide courses and equitably access services regardless of what school they attend. Starting this year, every 10th-grader will take Critical Ethnic Studies, a new graduation requirement, which is rooted in the students’ own experiences and the perspectives of people of color.

    Ohio’s Toledo Public Schools is partnering with ProMedica, the leading healthcare provider in northwest Ohio, to open the Toledo Pre-Medical and Health Science Academy. Hundreds of students applied to the school and seventy candidates were accepted. The curriculum of the innovative school focuses on biomedical science, pre-medicine, pre-nursing, and other health-science fields. Upon graduation, students will have the opportunity to begin entry-level careers in the medical field or to attend college and further their education. The ProMedica partnership provides educational opportunities, mentorships and internships to the students and the school administrators. 

    Tulsa Public Schools is launching a new aerospace program at East Central High School to provide students with the opportunity to build career-ready skills and earn industry certifications. The four-course elective program will cover the general knowledge and skills required for Federal Aviation Administration mechanic certification. Students will take one elective career-tech class each year of high school to complete the program. 

    Wichita Public Schools is partnering with Wichita State University to have college students who are studying computer science fill in at schools with open positions and assist schools’ Site Technology Specialists, who need help addressing student and staff technology needs. The college students not only receive real-world experience but are paid while receiving college credit. District staff have also begun training in “restorative practices,” with the goal of training all staff in the next few years. Restorative practices is a strategy designed to create stronger school communities, cultivate relationships within the school setting, address accountability and consequences, and build connections within these communities. 

    Winston Salem/Forsyth County
    North Carolina’s Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is teaming up with education technology consulting company Teach Tech U to assist in identifying and locating students who have not yet returned to school. Families of formerly enrolled students will be contacted and provided with opportunities for them to engage with school system officials to guarantee that their student is in a safe and fitting learning environment.