How Are Region 1 States Using ARP ESSER Funds to Address Learning Loss?

The nation’s first case of COVID-19 emerged in January 2020, and everyday lives changed significantly shortly thereafter. Americans scrambled for supplies at grocery stores, wrestled with mask mandates and lockdowns, and retreated from offices to work from home. But it was students’ lives that changed the most.

After a year and a half of virtual school, state education agencies (SEAs) and school districts wanted to address the impact of learning loss on students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund has dedicated $122 billion to support SEAs and districts in these efforts.

Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s ARP ESSER page to see how other states are using their ARP ESSER funds.

The pandemic created many educational challenges, and the Region 1 Comprehensive Center (R1CC) continues to support its states’ plans to implement ARP ESSER money to address these challenges. R1CC states—Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—are developing new ways of teaching and learning. As we reimagine strategies, R1CC recognizes that we have opportunities across the region to collaborate and support our states. When asked about the top two or three issues their students and schools face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, each state indicated unfinished learning or learning loss. What follows are key activities defined in each state’s ARP plan to address this challenge using ESSER funds.

The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) has decided to address unfinished learning through Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education (MOOSE) modules. These modules provide learning options and resources for educators, students, and their families. The asynchronous learning models allow students flexibility in their learning and the time needed to engage in the learning. MDOE held a forum in October 2021 with the R1CC to teach Maine’s educators how to use the MOOSE modules in an interactive format.

MDOE also has created an Extended Learning Program to develop and strengthen career exploration opportunities for students in Grades 7–12. Such programs can foster student engagement through hands-on learning opportunities; Maine’s Extended Learning Program will connect students with local employers and provide professional development to school personnel. Also, the program will conduct focus groups to identify needs and opportunities throughout the state as it partners with community organizations, businesses, and schools to enhance career exploration and learning opportunities.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is addressing the impact of lost instructional time with an Acceleration Roadmap. The roadmap has three priorities: (a) Foster a sense of belonging and partnership among students and families, (b) continuously monitor students’ understanding, and (c) ensure strong grade-appropriate instruction with just-in-time scaffolds when they are needed. With this roadmap, DESE has

  • launched Acceleration Academies where students can build skills while working intensively on one subject in small, hands-on learning environments with excellent teachers;
  • created Summer School Matching Grants for school districts to expand and enhance existing summer programs while including mental health services and other support for students with Individual Education Plans and English learners;
  • provided Summer Acceleration to College, a program that provides 2021 high school graduates with access to free credit-bearing college prep courses in math and English; and
  • offered Summer Step Up, which engages pre-kindergarten through second-grade students entering school in the fall while smoothing the transition to in-person learning to provide them a stronger foundation for academic success.

The New Hampshire Department of Education (NH DOE) is addressing learning loss in ways that target underserved students. Two new programs focus on students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students: Recovering Bright Futures and Yes! Program. Recovering Bright Futures is a learning recovery program that allows school districts and communities to offer small-group, multi-age, trauma-sensitive instruction to students who may need additional support. It uses learning pods as an individualized instruction model. (Based on stakeholder feedback, NH DOE is considering use of more innovative learning spaces, such as outdoor learning and alternative learning spaces for the pods, in its future ESSER fund plans.) The Yes! Program provides qualifying students with up to $1,000 for tutoring and special education therapies and services.

NH DOE has also received the ARP Homeless 1 subgrant and is using it to support learning recovery among its children and youth experiencing homelessness. The grant will be used for purposes including purchasing technological devices, providing transportation, and providing wrap-around services such as social-emotional supports and academic supports, to enable children and youth experiencing homelessness to attend classes and fully participate in school activities.

Additionally, NH DOE recognizes that student disengagement can stem from mediocre online instruction. NH DOE is contracting with Granite State College to improve the quality of online education. Participating educators will receive stipends and training to design and teach an online course through the state learning management system.

Vermont is addressing learning loss by targeting literacy concerns and declining test scores in English Language Arts. Vermont’s General Assembly (GA) has directed ARP ESSER money not only to provide teachers with professional development focused on evidence-based literacy instruction but also to help districts implement such teaching. The use of evidence-based practices and ensuring high-quality reading instruction statewide should help reduce the literacy gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

Additionally, the Vermont GA has allocated ARP ESSER funds for a multi-year grant for planning and implementing community school models statewide; such schools aim to meet the needs of Vermont’s most vulnerable youth, who lack access to healthcare, social supports, and community interventions. Community schools envision a synthesis of medical, mental health, and social services—among other supports for students and their families necessitated by the pandemic—within a school setting, ultimately leading to improved academic performance and growth.

In reviewing each Region 1 state's ARP ESSER plans, we recognize our state leaders' commitment to supporting our students with learning loss.

The contents of this blog were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.