Rodney Smith, Aug. 2

Rodney Smith, assistant superintendent for business, listens to a fellow administrator speak during Monday’s discussion of federal funding.

How to support students’ mental health and reverse learning loss are top of mind for Greenwood County School District 50’s board of trustees.

The board had a workshop Monday evening to share insight into the use of federal COVID-relief money provided to school districts.

The district is receiving $27,977,659 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds. The district is required to spend 20% of that money — or $5,595,532 — on learning loss.

The board gathered to discuss some of the priorities for spending that money and focused heavily on mental health and learning loss. The board referred frequently to a survey filled out by students, teachers, parents and community members. The survey garnered 1,564 responses and 700 submitted ideas. About half of those comments could be assigned to one of the 15 spending categories the district can use the money on, and the top two categories survey-takers wrote in recommendations for were related to mental health and learning loss.

Board members discussed ideas for things that could be considered related to mental health, such as a helpline, counselors, Suicide Hotline signage and professional development focused on spotting signs a student might need help.

“I think everyone in this room agrees, we’ve got really good people here in this district, but what we’re talking about, it almost depends on the human element of being perceptive to their environment, so maybe it’s professional development on that,” board member Clay Sprouse said.

“You know, I don’t think we all want all the ESSER funds to go to doom and gloom and that kind of direction, but it’s certainly important,” Sprouse added.

Board member Hillary Craigo mentioned the mental health aspect might not always be a case of tragedy, but children are “in the middle.”

“It’s the kid who is otherwise fairly healthy mentally,” Craigo said. “Their grades are dropping and they don’t know how to get caught back up because they were virtual for so long or they had to quarantine and they just don’t know how to ask for help and they’re embarrassed and those are the kids we’ve got to watch out for too.”

Board member Shelby Dominick Reed suggested playground equipment or sun shades could play a part in the mental awareness category, mentioning the positive effect being outdoors has on kids.

Related to learning loss, board members discussed what the funds could be used for there. Ways to support the upcoming intersession and use of technology to provide internet access to students, or access to missed lessons, for example.

Rodney Smith, the district assistant superintendent for business, said looking at mental health and learning loss were the two big takeaways from Monday’s board meeting.

Next, district administrators will get together, incorporate the board’s ideas into the draft plan they have, which he said will be a budget for the money, “a detailed explanation on what we’re going to do.”

The district will then send that plan to the state department by Aug. 24.

Also incorporated into the plan will be pieces of the district’s academic recovery plan, which was required to be approved by the state and has been approved.

Contact staff writer Lindsey Hodges at 864-943-5644 or on Twitter @LindseyNHodges.