This op-ed appeared in the Union Leader on September 25, 2022
BEFORE, DURING and now post pandemic, the Department of Education has remained committed to supporting our children and our schools. This support extends beyond the traditional classroom, and aims to reach a vast array of students, educational facilities and learning environments.
Support for our public schools does not mean that one does not support our nonpublic or home education students as well. Similarly, support for Education Freedom Accounts does not reflect a lack of support for public schools. It does not need to be one or the other, or us versus them. We all deserve the best educational experience possible; when our children prosper, we all prosper.
We know that learning is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We know that all students are equally valuable — whether they learn in a typical classroom setting, at a kitchen table or within a small learning pod.
The pandemic disrupted everything in the world of education. Despite this, New Hampshire fared well compared with many parts of the country. Coming out of the other side of the pandemic and gaining a bit of perspective, there is much that we did well and much to be proud of.
Those successes can be attributed to the resiliency and commitment to children and families of educational institutions, support organizations and friends. Those successes also reflect the investments that have been made, both locally and at the state level in our education system. Through COVID relief funding, school districts and the state have received unprecedented resources to invest in education, all with the goal of supporting our educators and strengthening opportunities for students.
Those state-level investments started early in the pandemic with the statewide licensing of a learning management system to make sure that our teachers and students had the best tools for effective instruction. That learning management system was augmented by a contract with Discovery Education, so that teachers and students have access to high quality instructional materials irrespective of the school they teach in or attend.
To assist educators taking advantage of these tools, two professional development opportunities were made available, including a program with Granite State College to provide training in the effective use of a learning management system. Recently, we rolled out our “Leaning into Literacy” training to ensure that all teachers have the chance to hone their skills teaching children to read — one of the most fundamental contributors to academic success. These opportunities will train thousands of New Hampshire educators.
Recognizing that learning gaps exist, we rolled out three separate tutoring programs to support the work of our teachers and students. Our partnership with Sal Kahn and Schoolhouse.world provides students with a peer-to-peer tutoring platform. Our “Yes! Every Student” tutoring program provides every student with $1,000 scholarships to be used for tutoring or special education services with New Hampshire certified educators. Most recently, we completed a contract with Tutor.com to bring 24/7 tutoring services to all children in grades 6-12.
The pandemic disrupted not only academic trajectories, but the ability for some students to access instruction because of stress, anxiety, and growing mental health struggles. We have supported students with our Rekindling Curiosity program, which helps low-income students across the state experience one of our great New Hampshire youth camps. The #603Moment campaign is also designed to spread positivity among our communities with uplifting messaging.
For teachers struggling with dysregulated behavior from students, we provided training through The Regulated Classroom and One Trusted Adult programs, offering them strategies and tools for working with these youth. Our partnership with the Community Behavioral Health Association provided mental health training to teachers and camp counselors, as well as direct services to students needing professional mental health support. Our partnership with Graduation Alliance gives our schools direct mentoring services for thousands of secondary students who are struggling to engage, sometimes disruptive and at risk of dropping out.
These are a few of the many investments that we have made in support of New Hampshire schools and students, regardless of where they are enrolled. Our approach through these investments has been to support our families, teachers, administrators and communities, all of whom work hard for our students. These investments, while predominantly in support of our traditional public schools, also extend to our public charter schools, nonpublic schools and Home Education programs — with the goal of supporting all students, without exclusion or exception.
These efforts and initiatives will not weaken our public education system as some claim. Instead, they expand opportunities and resources for every single child in the state, setting them all on a path to a bright future.
Frank Edelblut is commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education. He lives in Wilton.