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Urban Schools Welcome Students Back to Full-Time In-Person Learning This Fall

  • The nation’s urban schools began the 2021-2022 school year with students returning to in-person learning and with extensive health and safety measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. In addition to providing significant supports for academic success, big-city school districts also are implementing a range of initiatives to improve the social and emotional health of students. Here’s a roundup of what some urban school districts are offering students:

    Anchorage Anchorage School District/Louis Velasco

    Alaska’s Anchorage School District implemented a new third-grade social studies curriculum that blends and elevates the experiences, legacies and contributions of various Indigenous tribes of Alaska. The curriculum, developed with Alaska Native culture consultants, artists, translators, teachers and students, marks the first time the district has co-created curriculum with the Alaska Native community.


    Atlanta Public Schools is launching Propel Now, a program aimed at helping prepare students to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The district will work with nonprofit organization Education Farm to provide services and resources to high school students as they get ready to go to college. The organization also is working with the district to provide technology training to 100 educators as part of a year-long fellowship program.

                                                                                                                                   Anchorage School District/Louis Velasco


    Baltimore City Public Schools celebrated the opening of six new schools as part of the district’s 21st Century School  Buildings Program. The six schools were built over the last two years with a collective budget of $225 million.


    In an effort to boost students’ literacy skills, Boston Public Schools is increasing access to multilingual digital libraries and school-based libraries, as well as signing students up for Boston Public Library digital library cards. Also, all schools will have a social worker and a family liaison to strengthen communication and engagement with families. 


    South Carolina’s Charleston County School District partnered with the College of Charleston to launch the Scholars Academy, an advanced studies program providing rigorous, accelerated instruction and courses for students. The first cohort of 30 ninth-grade students will be able to take Honors, Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-enrollment courses, as well as accumulate up to two years of college credits. Criteria to participate in the program include course grades, assessment data and teacher recommendations.


    North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is expanding the Model of Reading Engagement (MORE) curriculum to all third graders. Developed by the READS Lab at Harvard, the curriculum is paired with an app and was piloted in 26 elementary schools last year. Students in the program demonstrated increases in vocabulary, reading performance and reading comprehension. Principals and third-grade teachers will receive ongoing training for effective implementation this school year.


    The nation’s third-largest school district is partnering with the City Colleges of Chicago to pilot the Healthcare Model Pathway program, which will allow students at eight schools to participate in an early-college curriculum in healthcare and earn 15 credits along with their high school diploma. The district also has launched Skyline, the district’s first-ever universal curriculum resource developed internally that is culturally responsive and tailored to the needs of Chicago students. Previously, schools and teachers were responsible for identifying and securing curriculum on their own.


    Cincinnati Public Schools is implementing “healthy” start times this year at nine high schools, which will have students arriving and being dismissed at later hours. In 2019, the school board passed a resolution to phase in later start times at the high school level. This was the last group of schools to make the transition.

    Clark County

    Nevada’s Clark County School District in Las Vegas created the Focus on the Future for Kids: Community Input Process to get extensive input from the community on how future investments are spent, including approximately $770 million in federal funds that will be provided through the American Rescue Plan over the next three years. The district hosted six community-wide input meetings and partnered with a planning team to review the input gathered and organize common messages into themes to develop a shared community vision for education. The final funding plan was submitted to the Nevada Department of Education and the district will continue to report the progress on the federal funds to the community. 


    Cleveland Metropolitan School District is implementing PACE, a 6th- to 12th- grade planning and career exploration program designed to link students to living-wage careers after graduation. The district also is converting high school library/media centers into community, college, and career hubs that will be open before, during and after school for use by students and the school community.


    Dallas Independent School District opened the doors to a new International Baccalaureate school on the campus of Paul Quinn College, Dallas’ only historically black college. The Paul Quinn College Global School will focus on giving students in grades 6-12 the opportunity to experience college life at an early age. The district also eliminated both in-school and out-of-school suspensions for middle school and high school students and also established Reset Center Coordinators, who work at middle schools and high schools to implement restorative practices as well as social and emotional learning strategies.


    Ohio’s Dayton Public Schools launched a new Females of Color program to provide young women with opportunities to participate in activities, projects and discussions that empower and inspire them to be positive leaders in their schools and communities. The district also hired 96 additional teachers to implement a double-teaching model in all first- through third-grade classrooms, which will let teachers work with smaller groups of students, identify gaps in learning more quickly and provide the individualized attention needed to close those gaps. 

    El Paso

    Texas’ El Paso Independent School District is implementing the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, at four high schools, a program that allows students to earn an associate’s degree or industry certifications upon graduation. 

    Fort Worth 

    The Fort Worth Independent School District in Texas is launching STEM Mobile Innovation Labs, which will offer students hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activity modules staffed by two science teachers who will visit different elementary and middle school campuses weekly. The district also is implementing Freshman Success Teams at all high schools to ensure 9th-graders start off with the supports needed to succeed in high school and beyond.

    Guilford County

    In an effort to expose middle school students to technical education careers, North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools is partnering with non-profit organization Say Yes Guilford to implement several new programs. Beginning in the fall, all 7th- and 8th-graders will have the opportunity to take the YouScience Discovery assessment to learn about career opportunities available to them after graduation. Eighth-grade students will be able to participate in The Perfect Pitch, an entrepreneurial experience in which students will work in teams and pitch their ideas to a panel of industry professionals.


    Houston Independent School District is using its Ready, Set, Go Back to School Plan to ensure that all parents, students and staff feel safe coming back to school for the 2021-2022 school year. The school system also is launching 50 emergency food pantries and, in partnership with district  police and the Social and Emotional Learning department, is implementing the Pet-Assisted Wellness Support Program — dubbed PAWS — to address students’ grief, stress and anxiety associated with COVID-19 and other difficult situations. This program utilizes three dogs trained to provide comfort and support to students in crisis. 

    Kansas City 

    Missouri’s Kansas City Public Schools opened its new International Welcome Center to support students who have recently immigrated to the United States. The Welcome Center will provide students and their families with translation and interpretation support, social workers and connections to community partners and consolidates many of the support services the district provides in one place. The center is also the site of the Global Academy, where students spend half the day learning and the other half in their home school where they have recess and lunch with their English-speaking peers.  


    Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., launched its new virtual school for students in grades 6-12. The Pathfinder School of Innovation offers families the option of continuing with all-virtual instruction for students who thrived in non-traditional instruction (NTI) or who are not comfortable returning to in-person learning.


    Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ new initiative, Transition G.P.S – Gearing Up for Post-Secondary Success -- is designed to help students transitioning from middle to high school, and from high school to post-secondary settings, by increasing access to transition services, programs, community agencies and post-secondary opportunities. The district also is implementing the Healthy Thinking initiative to provide enhanced social, emotional and mental health support to schools based on students’ needs following the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional 25 mental health coordinators will provide wrap-around services for students who might be experiencing serious mental health or behavioral challenges. 


    Minneapolis Public Schools is launching its MPS Online School for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Students in the school will have access to teachers, counselors, social workers and other support staff. 

    New York City

    The nation’s largest school district is hiring more than 500 new social workers so each school will have at least one social worker or school-based mental health clinic. The district also is adding more than 130 new community schools to provide expanded social, emotional, academic and extracurricular services; establishing Immigrant Ambassador Programs across 30 high schools to match immigrant students with college students for mentorship; and training 5,000 K-12 teachers to teach computer science coursework.


    New Jersey’s Newark Public Schools is opening the Newark School of Fashion & Design to inspire students in grades 9-12 to explore their academic and creative potential in fashion and design. The school is partnering with the Parsons School of Design, which will lead the development and design of the syllabi for courses, as well as create a framework for the four-year curriculum journey for all students.


    Virginia’s Norfolk Public Schools is launching Vector Alert, a tip-reporting service enabling students, staff and parents to submit safety concerns to the administration via email, text, phone, website or an app. Every tip Vector Alert receives about a safety concern will be immediately logged into the system, and district administration will be notified to investigate and take appropriate action.


    The School District of Philadelphia launched its first "Back to School Bus Tour,” making 31 stops in neighborhoods across the city. Ambassadors were at each stop to answer questions and provide back-to-school information and free backpacks with school supplies. In addition, select tour stops featured opportunities to receive free, state-mandated immunizations required for school registration. The district also opened three new school buildings — Northeast Community Propel Academy, Powel/SLAMS, and Solis-Cohen.


    This fall, Oregon’s Portland Public Schools will roll out a one-to-one digital initiative and begin issuing CTL Chromebooks to students in grades three through 12. The district also will begin using a new math curriculum, called Ready Math, in grades K-5, with materials translated into Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese.

    Saint Louis

    Saint Louis Public Schools is partnering with STL Youth Jobs for the Learn & Earn internship program that allows qualified seniors to participate in a paid internship. Participants will receive on-going support from school counselors, job coaches and mentors and can earn up to $2,000 during their internship assignment.

    San Diego

    To help address the academic and social-emotional needs of students who are returning to campuses, the San Diego Unified School District has added additional school nurses to serve students and an increase in the minimum number of school psychologists from 65 to 95. Also, all students will have access to free meals on campus, regardless of the school they attend or family income. 


    Seattle Public Schools created a new Office of Strategy Development and Responsiveness designed to bring strategic alignment and coherence to district initiatives in support of student outcomes. The office will monitor deployment of strategies and provide system accountability to students, families, schools, and staff and was designed to better align strategies in support of the district’s strategic plan, “Seattle Excellence.”

    St. Paul

    Minnesota’s Saint Paul Public Schools is launching the SPPS Online School for students in grades K-12, which allows students to take classes online that meet Minnesota academic standards. The curriculum is designed using strategies that are proven to work in a virtual environment, and students will use the digital platforms on their school iPad for learning. 


    In an effort to increase certifications and college credit, Wichita Public Schools is implementing  Graduation+, its commitment to the future workforce by having the majority of seniors graduate with a diploma and one or more Market Value Assets. Those options include industry-recognized credentials, work-based learning, dual-credit college classes and entrepreneurial experiences. The process begins in 7th grade, when students start their Individualized Plan of Study that will help  them understand what courses they should take based on their interests to prepare them for the career they want after graduation.