Millions in federal COVID-19 aid funds spur Middletown Schools upgrades

Middletown Schools have received $26 million in federal COVID-19 funds to help offset the costs and challenges of the pandemic since its onset in March 2020. Among the upgrades paid for with the funds are the addition of school counselors in each of the 10 city school buildings. Among the new counselors is Lexie Stelnicki, seen her with students at Amanda Elementary. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

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Middletown Schools have received $26 million in federal COVID-19 funds to help offset the costs and challenges of the pandemic since its onset in March 2020. Among the upgrades paid for with the funds are the addition of school counselors in each of the 10 city school buildings. Among the new counselors is Lexie Stelnicki, seen her with students at Amanda Elementary. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

Digital learning enhancements, more staff are some of the benefits

At the two-year anniversary of the onset of COVID-19, Middletown Schools and its 6,300 students are in some ways seeing upgraded resources thanks largely to federal pandemic relief funds, said school officials.

The nationwide Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding program kicked in a few months after the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 and city school officials have recently publicly cited a list of areas where the funding proved beneficial.

“With the ESSER funds, Middletown Schools was presented with an incredible opportunity to serve our students,” said Spokesperson Elizabeth Beadle.

“For example, we’re able to purchase proven reading programs that we weren’t able to afford otherwise. And now have (student) counselors in all of our 10 buildings and we have more bilingual specialists as well as a bilingual psychologist,” Beadle said.

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According to the district, ESSER funds channeled — and in some cases augmented through the state in three rounds of funding — have to-date totaled $26 million since 2020.

The annual operating budget for Middletown Schools is more than $76 million.

The sweeping expenses and challenges COVID-19 forced on the district were costly, said school officials, but there are some areas of personnel and program improvement now and in the future made possible by the federal aid.

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“Not only will our students catch up from the last two years, but they’re also going to find success quicker and with long-lasting results,” Beadle said.

Since the start of the 2021-22 school year, Middletown has used ESSER funds to add teaching and support personnel and programs including: six elementary counselors; eight additional literacy tutors; five more English as a Second Language (ESL) tutors; seven kindergarten classroom assistants’ three literacy instructional assistants and COVID-19 masks and other personal protection equipment.

And, perhaps most importantly, in enhancing digital learning — especially for students from lower income families — with the provision of more than 2,000 student laptops and home wireless access systems allowing them to learn digitally at school and at home.

Randy Bertram, treasurer for Middletown Schools, said the federal funding has been invaluable during the unprecedented pandemic.

“We are very grateful for the three rounds of ESSER dollars. We are able to do many things with these funds including but not limited to retaining great staff and programs, upgrading and improving technology for our students,” said Bertram.

School officials, he said, were also able to “develop recovery plans for our students for the learning loss they may have had during this pandemic, provide safety protocols and supplies to fight the virus, delivery quality meals to our students while they were learning from home and quarantined, and purchase all the needed textbooks, classroom supplies, and materials that we would not have otherwise afforded.”

“While the pandemic was traumatic in how it affected our educational delivery, the funds derived from it have given us the ability to rethink and invent ways to improve our educational delivery for many years to come, hopefully without future pandemics,” said Bertram.

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