AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Amarillo Independent School District held a focus group on the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III grant Tuesday night at Palo Duro High School. The meeting was hosted in partnership with the Amarillo branch of the NAACP and community leaders, and served to get community input of potential funds available from the grant.
The ESSER III grant is part of the American Rescue Plan, in which Texas is scheduled to receive $12.4 billion. Of that money, the district said it could receive up to $70 million for various student/teacher improvements across AISD, as the district works to return normalcy to its classrooms. All funds the district receives from the grant must be spent by the 2025-2026 school year.
Community leaders such as Rev. Bennie Anderson, Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, said it’s important that people show up and have a voice in how the money could potentially be used.
“AISD is interested to hear the voices from the community,” Rev. Anderson said. “How it affected them economically, how it affected them and their grades, so that they’ll know how to put that money to work to help our communities.”
The meeting served as part of the information gathering process, which will last through late summer. AISD added that it has done other focus groups concerning the grant and the application process, with other Amarillo communities.
AISD students were negatively impacted in several ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the district said the number of students below grade level is expected to increase due to gaps and deficiencies that may have arisen as a result of quarantine and the lack of direct instruction.
AISD students, the district told us, lose 2.5 months of instruction in a typical year due to the summer break, in what is called the summer slide. However, with all of the changes brought on by COVID-19, that slide increased to 5.7 months of instructional loss.
The inconsistencies in directional teaching and instruction, brought on by a mix of traditional in-person learning, then having to switch to virtual learning in quarantine, played a big part in the social, emotional and educational struggles many AISD students faced over the last school year, district officials said.
“Our number one priority has to be the social and emotional development of our students,” said Patrick Miller, AISD Educator and President of the Amarillo Branch of the NAACP. “Being isolated due to quarantines or having just the constant inconsistency as far as education goes, because sometimes it may have been traditional in-person, but due to quarantine, it may have been virtual. So dealing with the ramifications of that, and whatever gaps and deficiencies may have actually arisen as a result of that, I think we really have to look at the social development of our students.”
Add to that the pre-pandemic economic hardships of several AISD families, and you have the potential for many students to feel forgotten about or left behind. Miller said that is something that AISD is committed to avoiding.
“It says that they are committed to hearing from those voices that for far too long have gone unheard,” he said. “It pleases me to see that we continue to showcase that this is a community effort, and we truly desire to make sure however we prioritize these funds, that they are spent, and that the needs that are truly the focus of the community that it represents.”
In previous community meetings, the district learned that some of the issues facing AISD students are difficulty learning and keeping up due to quarantine, loss of motivation to read without the teacher, loss of friends due to not being able to connect with them, some students’ love of classes like science, were hampered, because they were unable to do lab activities.
These are just some of the reasons leaders of the community like Rev. Anderson are passionate about voices being heard, but also grateful that AISD is listening.
“It means everything,” he said. “To be able to have a voice on the decisions that are made about you and your children. To have a say-so, that is big time, and I think that we should take full advantage of that.”
AISD said there is a board meeting and public hearing scheduled on July 19th, and the grant submission deadline is July 27th.
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