Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the educational challenges it brought, the state of California has given school districts relief money to use as they choose.
According to Berkeley High School (BHS) Principal Juan Raygoza, BHS received around $619,000 in one-time relief funds. The goal of the COVID-19 relief funds is to support teachers and students during in-class instruction. The school has until 2024 to spend the money, which was extended from BHS’s original one-year deadline in order to allow the school more time to make decisions on spending.
BHS has already used some of the relief money to aid academic departments and areas, such as technology, where more support was needed to better the productivity of students in class. There are also plans for the funds to be used in the future, specifically for the Multilingual Program (MLP) and Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Program.
With the money, BHS purchased eight Google Chromebook carts this year.
“This pandemic showed us just how important technology… access for all students and appropriate use of it to access education [are],” Raygoza said. “Our staff here and our students could always benefit from greater access … and we don’t have enough computers here for all students.”
Raygoza also said that BHS has created Math 1 support classes this year in response to COVID-19 and the lost learning time with distance learning. These classes aim to support students in upper grades to move on to Math 2.
Raygoza worked with Kiernan Rok, the vice principal of the Math Department, and Monique Duncan-Harris, a lead teacher of the Math Department, to hire a former BHS alum as faculty.
In addition to programs that are already funded, Raygoza has visions for future projects and areas that can be supported by the money.
Raygoza said that BHS also plans on using the funds to support the MLP, a small learning community for those who do not speak English as their first language and who have been in California public schools for less than six years.
Daniella Maaze, co-lead of the MLP, outlined four different areas where the program would benefit from the COVID-19 relief funds: technology, mental health, field trips, and materials. The MLP will be allocated a certain portion of the funds by Raygoza, and Maaze will decide where it goes together with other heads of the learning community.
In terms of technology, the MLP is looking to increase access to Chromebooks for their students to use in the classroom and at home. The MLP is also looking to increase mental health services for the whole school.
“Everybody needs more access to mental health this year,” Maaze said. “We’re still in the process of collaborating with an outside organization that provides mental health services like counseling one-on-one and small group counseling … [and] social emotional curriculum training for MLP teachers … so our students are immersed in it.”
The MLP is also looking to provide students the opportunity to go on field trips, many of which were previously canceled due to COVID-19, and more materials in the classroom, such as binders and notebooks.
Harrison Blatt, a vice principal, said he is working closely with VAPA staff to come up with projects centered around art, aiming to build community with students and support their social emotional development.
“The visual and performing arts department was … highlighted by the administration as one that does really well in supporting students and building community and happiness … at school through making art,” Blatt said.
Similarly to the MLP, Blatt is allocated a certain portion of the COVID-19 funds and has the freedom to use it how he and the VAPA teachers see fit. He highlighted a few of the proposals, naming three main ones the school is planning on moving forward with: art packets, art carts, and a textile making class.
Art packets, specifically 500 sketchbooks and pastels, will be provided to students and targeted at those who are currently not in an art class.
“Kids are struggling emotionally, and having a sketchbook with pastels will give them a chance to express their inner struggles in a private, non-academic, and creative way,” Blatt said. “Studies show that having access to creative ways of expressing oneself leads to better academic outcomes and emotional wellbeing.”
The art cart would be a cart with various art supplies that would allow students to dedicate some time during the school day to a quick workshop on spray painting, oil painting, or other forms of visual art.
The final proposal for textile making would involve smaller groups of students joining a teacher during lunchtime to learn how to knit, crochet, and create art with yarn.
“This is totally different [than other areas being funded] because it’s really targeting student’s joy and social emotional wellbeing through making art,” Blatt said. “[It’s] a really great way to use these funds.”