A $1.8 billion dollar influx of federal funding is coming to Massachusetts schools this year. Communities have until October to submit their funding plans to the state. So what should districts do with this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity? Our team came up with a list of practices that schools can invest in right now to both address the current needs of students and lay the building blocks for the modern system of education our children need.
The long-standing challenge of accessing mental health care is growing more and more insurmountable. And the pandemic has only made matters worse. The impacts of a year in isolation on children’s mental health has been profound. Mental health providers cannot keep up with the demand for services and supporting young people during this time requires a whole community response. But while schools can, and do, play a significant role addressing this challenge, supporting students’ mental health needs is a significant responsibility that can stress the capacity of schools and educators. That’s why we’ve teamed up with mental health experts to launch Thriving Minds. Through a series of learning opportunities, Thriving Minds provides teachers, school mental health professionals, and school and district leaders with guidance and support to build comprehensive school mental health systems.
We are thrilled to introduce our new Associate, Elizabeth (Ellie) Sanchez! Ellie joined our team this summer, bringing with her a passion for improving public education and years of experience working in schools and advocating for change. Before coming to the Rennie Center, Ellie served as a corps member for City Year Boston, worked as a teaching assistant at a K-8 school in Roxbury, fought to improve civics education through her work at Generation Citizen, and graduated with a degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
As Somerville looks ahead to the fall, district leaders say they don't want to focus on making up for the past year, but instead helping students move forward and advancing toward a more equitable and effective system. The district is offering summer programs to help students build academic skills, explore interests, reconnect with peers, and smooth the transition into the school year. Meanwhile, schools are preparing to support students’ mental health and social-emotional needs this fall.
College and career counselors, teachers, and community partners worked together to help the Somerville High School class of 2021 prepare for their post-graduation plans amid COVID-19. Though communicating virtually, they worked to establish relationships with seniors and provide resources through several forms of outreach including one-on-one conversations, online workshops, forums for families, and creating videos on common topics in postsecondary readiness.
It’s been nearly 25 years since the first MCAS tests were taken. Since then, the test and the state’s accountability system have brought resources to underfunded schools, highlighted inequities in our education system, and pushed Massachusetts to first in the nation in academics. But, with progress stalling, a new understanding of the importance of deeper learning, and decades of data on the unintended consequences the test has had on economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color, it’s time for a change. We need to fundamentally rethink our approach to assessments.
In our latest look into the past year in Somerville Public Schools, we look at how Somerville's many community organizations teamed up with schools to meet the needs of students and families during COVID-19, providing everything from diapers and groceries, to art supplies and out-of-school-time learning opportunities. Coordinating in a time of urgency represented a massive logistical challenge, but organizations stepped up to provide support while city and district officials helped fill in gaps with services and messaging to the community.
In our latest look into the past year in Somerville Public Schools, we explore efforts to to keep the community up-to-date on the virus and its effects on Somerville students. From virtual platforms, to phone calls, emails, and social media, communication came through various channels. The most effective communication took place where community members had existing networks, which they could leverage to address needs exacerbated by the pandemic.
In our latest look into the past year in Somerville Public Schools, we explore the challenges students and educators faced in navigating a virtual classroom. When schools closed last spring, Somerville undertook a massive device rollout to make virtual classes available to all students. This process exposed significant inequities in internet access across the district. Even once students were connected, they found it difficult to connect to classes through multiple learning platforms. Many educators also faced obstacles in acclimating to teaching online. However, there are some lessons districts can build upon and integrate into in-person learning, as technology continues to be a great tool for engaging families.

We are releasing a series of dispatches on the bright spots and challenges of the past year in Somerville Public Schools. We hope this in-depth look at one community can shed light on what students and schools across the state need right now and how communities and policymakers can support them.