Hamilton Schools to use COVID-19 relief funds to add more teachers

Millions of dollars in federal funding to Hamilton Schools - under a national school coronavirus relief program - is allowing the city schools to have two teachers in early grade classes. The co-teaching approach is designed to help children who may be lagging academically due to school disruptions since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)
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Millions of dollars in federal funding to Hamilton Schools - under a national school coronavirus relief program - is allowing the city schools to have two teachers in early grade classes. The co-teaching approach is designed to help children who may be lagging academically due to school disruptions since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

Federal coronavirus relief funding is helping Hamilton Schools to double up on teachers in some early grade classrooms to better help students lagging academically due to the pandemic.

The national Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Grant Program, which is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, has provided $45 million to Hamilton Schools, said Andrea Blevins, CEO of elementary programs.

Most of the funds this school year have gone to the hiring of 63 new teachers for the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools’ “Co-teaching Collaborative,” said Blevins and the early results, she added, have been “great.”

“We have two teachers in every first and second grade classroom throughout the district so that’s 64 classrooms … are completely co-taught. In addition half of kindergarten and half of third grade (classes) do as well,” she said.

District officials also re-allocated some existing teachers and support staff to further boost instructional learning in the early grades to better help youngsters recover from the learning losses of last school year, the first entire year under the coronavirus.

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Ohio schools have long used part-time instructional assistants to aid full-time, fully instructionally certified teachers in some classes.

But the pandemic’s shuttering of all Ohio schools in March 2020, followed last school year that saw area school systems rollercoaster through at-home learning and variable flex class schedules all lending to a slow down of learning for many students.

To be able to use federal ESSER funds — at no expense to Hamilton Schools — to provide students with two, fully professionally certified teachers is a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Blevins.

“This is allowing us to do something that would have only been a pipe dream. We know that the biggest impact on a student’s success is the teacher in front of them. And the more personalized that relationship is the better the results for students.”

Early grade classroom lesson plans are now co-written by the two instructors. Students have twice the opportunities to have an instructor to turn to for help or one-on-one attention.

Ridgeway Elementary Principal Kathy Wagonfield said the new, collaborative approach is “amazing.”

“It’s going to make a large difference for the kids. We can assess where they are (academically) and then they can go to a small (classroom) group here or a small group there and all the while with the rest of the kids working at their level,” said Wagonfield.

“Building a relationship with two adults is just amazing. We can now expect (academic) growth out of every single child,” she said.

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