Shaun Donovan

4. The long-term effects of COVID-19 on students and schools will take years to understand. It is widely acknowledged that arts education provides authentic ways for students to build long-term social-emotional competencies (such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, empathy, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making). How will you provide school communities with the tools and resources needed to confront and address trauma while fostering a welcoming, supportive environment?

Helping both students and educators recover from the academic and social-emotional impact of COVID must be a principal consideration in our city’s recovery plans, and is a key priority of my Education Platform. Reopening schools for more students, in a way their families trust is safe, is just the beginning; a generation of students are facing unprecedented challenges in terms of widening opportunity gaps, as well as growing social-emotional needs after the trauma of the pandemic and social isolation. When it comes to supporting learning recovery, students need both content-specific academic supports and ongoing social-emotional and mental health supports. We must commit to a multi-year comprehensive approach that provides targeted support to help our students and educators recover, but goes beyond—reimagining an education system that creates equitable environments that propel all students, particularly those historically marginalized, on a path of opportunity and success.

We must invest in additional mental health services, response to trauma, and other supports, both within and beyond school premises, building on the city’s previous investment in counselors and support staff. This includes building a Mental Health Continuum, as advocates and the City Council have called for, that provides mental health care for students and families in and outside of schools so that they receive coordinated mental health services needed, especially if they are in crisis, rather than relying on 911. Additionally, all educators should receive mental health and self-care support for themselves, alongside mental health and social-emotional learning training to better address their students’ needs in the classroom.

Despite heroic efforts on the part of educators and school leaders, most students experienced sporadic instruction after the abrupt shift to remote learning in the spring of 2020. As our schools and communities recover and rebuild, students will need additional time to address this unparalleled social-emotional, mental health, and academic disruption in a thoughtful, research-based manner. Through initiatives like extended day and/or year, summer programming, year-round schooling, and intensive tutoring, we need to provide additional core academic, enrichment (e.g. visual and performing arts, sports, health and wellness, etc.) and social-emotional opportunities for our students as well as planning and collaboration time for our educators. The right approach will differ by school and community; it should be co-planned with local educators and families to meet the needs of local school communities.

An Education Recovery Corps could utilize the strength of our CUNY students and graduates, and other young people, to partner with educators to support the academic and social-emotional recovery of our elementary and secondary school students. Partially funded through federal AmeriCorps dollars and modeled after existing initiatives like the CUNY Tutor Corps, the College Bridge Program, and City Year, but with a more meaningful living allowance to ensure corps members are fairly paid for their service, an Education Recovery Corps could provide supplemental learning and social-emotional support for younger students, while offering immediate employment in their own communities for CUNY students and graduates, many of whom have faced economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.

Through all of these initiatives we must ensure that arts education and the specific social-emotional benefits that it provides are integrated into our plans, and that the arts are recognized as the valuable tool that they are.

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NYC AiE Roundtable