Westbrook Schools Field Ideas for Federal Funding, Electives, ‘Wellness Rooms’

WESTBROOK — How should local schools spend $700,000 of federal grant money? Local residents have plenty of ideas, starting with air conditioning.

According to school Superintendent Kristina Martineau, many of the 100 people responding to her request for feedback on spending the federal aid asked whether the money could be spent on air conditioning installation and HVAC improvements in the three school buildings. Martineau spoke to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

While that was the most common request, Martineau said it certainly wasn’t the only one. Outdoor classrooms were also a popular suggestion. Others wanted to fund specific activities, like a lacrosse team and a sailing club. Martineau said that social and emotional help was also a popular suggestion, for students and staff.

She told CT Examiner that among the suggestions was creating “wellness rooms” in each building where staff members could go if they needed to take time for themselves or seek out support.  

Martineau said she’d also heard feedback asking for afterschool and summer programs. 

At Tuesday’s meeting Martineau reported that there hadn’t been a lot of evidence of learning loss over the last year, but by email she also told CT Examiner that the district would be using the funding to support three new “summer learning academies” in July.

Martineau said the summer program will include academic help, social-emotional activities and a partnership with Westbrook Parks and Recreation to give the students free access to their summer camp, which includes trips to the beach. She said the federal funding will support afterschool and summer programs for the next three school years, through September 2024. 

Martineau also said that the district is considering developing a blended learning model — a combination of in-person and online class work for pre-kindergarten students through 12th grade. She said the district formed a committee of teachers who are working with the technology director to develop pilot programs for the idea.

“We have learned a lot this year about technology integration and the staff and students have wonderful ideas about transforming classroom space,” Martineau said in an email. 

But Martineau said that the federal funding won’t be enough to cover all the requests, and that the district was still determining the cost of air conditioning and HVAC projects, and prioritizing ideas for spending the money.

Students speak 

Teachers and parents aren’t the only ones sharing a vision for the district. 

Martineau said that exit interviews she’d conducted with nearly all of the 47 seniors graduating from Westbrook High School shone a light on other ideas that might be worth investing in, particularly new course offerings. 

Financial literacy was a major theme, Martineau said. She said the students want to learn how to develop a budget, how and why to use credit cards and lessons in retirement planning, including information about 401ks. She said others asked for classes in Italian, Mandarin and Portuguese, courses in computer science and robotics and an automotive program. Some also asked for the opportunity to earn trade certifications or participate in EMT classes.

Martineau said she believes that many of the suggestions were shaped  by the unusual circumstances of spending a significant portion of their junior and senior years learning remotely. She said that the district had to suspend some electives this year to maintain social distancing.

Martineau also said she’d heard from students asking for more help as they prepare to enter either college or the workforce. Some wanted help navigating a job search. Others asked for internship opportunities, and still others asked that college admissions staff be allowed to visit the school. According to Martineau, the pandemic prevented some college-bound students taking part in college campus visits. 

Martineau said the district will be able to revise grant requests over the next few years, and will look to see if there are other ideas for grant funding, but in the meantime the district is expanding electives next year to include several new AP courses, including computer science and courses in robotics. 

At the meeting on Tuesday, Martineau also presented a draft of the district’s in-person learning plan for the fall, which calls for the district to continue to follow state guidelines on masks and to maintain social distancing. 

Community members can contact Martineau directly with feedback on federal funding or on the district’s safe return to schools plan. They can also take a survey on the safe return plan on the Westbrook Public Schools website.  

The district’s summer learning program will be offered from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in July.

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