Director Lebo: The first step is half the journey
In my first few months as director I have been heartened by the ability of our students to adapt to new learning environments and the wherewithal of educators as they end the year remotely. Schools are reimagining year-end celebrations with livestream events, virtual ceremonies and drive-through parades, and our students are choosing to finish the school year in positivity as captured in our video featuring messages from some of our graduating high school seniors.
Looking toward the future, I am reminded of the old adage “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” As this school year comes to its unforeseen end, we are starting our journey for a new tomorrow with the reopening of summer learning opportunities and high school sports.
We know that students, families, teachers, and coaches are excited to reconnect with each other as we reopen activities and learning safely, with the health and well-being of all involved a priority. As the only state to offer summer interscholastic baseball and softball, we are leading the nation by taking the first step to resume team-organized sports and bring life back into our school communities.
Though the pandemic caught us by surprise, its lingering effects will not. While no one can say for certain what school will look like in August, we know it will be important to help students feel safe and supported as they transition back into traditional school settings. To support this process, schools are addressing the social-emotional-behavioral health needs of students as part of their work on Return-to-Learn plans, while the Department is collaborating with our AEAs to provide resources to help prepare for the many scenarios we might encounter.
Providing a strong foundation for continuous learning as a fundamental part of our overall education system will be a hallmark of our future learning, and demonstrate a lasting impact of what this disaster has taught us.
We understand that expanding broadband access and improving access to technology is critical for all students to learn remotely. The $26.2 million in federal relief through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER), which was just announced today, is an important step toward solving that problem. Iowa’s GEER application focuses on providing and expanding broadband access and improving access to technology in other ways, as best determined by responses from the household technology needs survey we are sending out this week. These funds will help secure resources to support students and families as we take the next steps toward the new school year, and I look forward to sharing more information on that soon.
As the 2019-20 school year comes to a close, I am humbled by the commitment and unwavering determination I have seen demonstrated by so many during this crisis. Now, as we look forward to the future, our collective ability to flourish even in the toughest circumstances gives me the confidence that we can conquer any challenge presented to us.