COVID relief funds make summer school possible for some students in Lawrence Public Schools

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For some students in Lawrence, learning will continue in June, with a special focus on personal, social and character development.

The summer learning program, which typically isn’t offered by the district, is made possible by federal COVID relief funding and is targeted to benefit students identified as “at-risk,” Julie Boyle, executive director of communications for Lawrence Public Schools, told the Times in an email.

With limited funding and staff availability, the district has used academic data and social-emotional screening tools to help identify which elementary and middle school students would benefit most from extra academic and social-emotional learning support this summer, Boyle said. Data on the number of students enrolled in the summer learning program was unavailable.

The term “social-emotional learning” has emerged as a buzzword in education. The Kansas State Department of Education outlines standards within these categories: personal development, such as self-awareness and self-management; social development, such as social awareness and interpersonal skills; and character development, including core principles and responsible decision-making and problem-solving.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic triggered school closings in March 2020, mental health professionals have emphasized the need for increased social-emotional and mental health supports for youth. Research suggests students who are able to manage their emotions have better academic outcomes.

Boyle said this type of learning is embedded within the summer learning curriculum. “We have been intentional in our planning to focus on these students’ social-emotional needs, as well as their instructional needs in reading and math.”

During the summer of 2020, the school district offered summer counseling supports, including virtual appointments and information about community resources. This summer, the district will have counselors working in all of the district’s summer learning sites.

Nicole Stafford, children and family services director for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, said she would encourage any family who needs mental health support this summer to start with their child’s mental health team or contact Bert Nash directly. 

“Bert Nash is the safety net for the community,” Stafford said. “Pay should not be a deterrent for families to access care here at Bert Nash. We have different avenues for them to be able to get services provided to them.”

Stafford said there is state grant funding available, a sliding fee scale, and a lot of resources for families to be able to get their needs met at Bert Nash.

“I would just encourage families who have a need and are worried about how you’re going to pay for a service that they should just come in to talk to us about what’s going on and allow us to help with that process,” Stafford said.

Bert Nash’s partnership with Douglas County schools, known as the Building Bridges program, provides awareness about mental health services available for Douglas County students during the school year. Stafford encourages families who identify an immediate need for mental health support during the summer to seek help — don’t wait for school to resume in the fall.

As the Times previously reported, the district has requested $475,000 per year for the summer learning program from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Known as the ESSER II grant, the application awaits approval by the state and would provide funding for the next three summers, Boyle said.

Separate from the summer school made possible by the one-time funding, Boyle said high schools will offer only limited summer services, such as credit recovery. Special education services will also continue for a limited number of students who qualify.

The Kansas Department of Education’s website shows a total direct allocation request of ESSER II funds of just more than $6 million for the district. For a look at the KSDE list of 15 authorized uses for the funds — which include pandemic planning, educational technology, student instruction and more — click here.

Available resources:

Bert Nash’s 24-hour hotline is 785-843-9192, and beginning Tuesday, the center is expanding its operating hours to make mental health help more accessible. For a list of services, click here.

Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ, formerly known as Headquarters, provides support, education and crisis services, including services that help people impacted after a death by suicide. Reach their 24/7 crisis line at 785-841-2345.

The national suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255. For help via web chat, visit or text KANSAS to 741741.

Access the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Youth Health Guide below.


More coverage:

• May 28, 2021: Lawrence school district offering free meal kits for all community children

• May 13, 2021: Bert Nash expanding hours for mental health services, adding staff

• May 12, 2021: Lawrence families: Here’s your guide to fun in summer 2021

• April 20, 2021: Kansas transitioning to 10-digit dialing ahead of new 988 suicide prevention number

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