Carrigan Intermediate School in West Haven reopened on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. School districts across the state reevaluated how to proceed with in-person or hybrid learning models during the pandemic. Yehyun Kim /
Carrigan Intermediate School in West Haven reopened on Sep. 8. The state is launching a $10.7 million effort to re-engage students who struggled with absenteeism and disengagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yehyun Kim /

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many K-12 students — especially those who were learning remotely — struggled with absenteeism and disengagement from school. But now the state has launched a $10.7 million program to help bring them back.

The Learner Engagement and Attendance Program, or LEAP, is a partnership between the state Department of Education and six Regional Education Service Centers to help 15 high-needs districts bring more students back into schools this spring, enroll students in summer programs and help families transition back into schools in the fall.

This program will receive $10.68 million of the state’s federal COVID-19 recovery funding through the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Funds, which will support the districts’ efforts to go directly to students’ homes and help them find ways to re-engage.

“With this $10.7 million, we’re going to be … doing everything we can to knock on the door and tell these kids we miss them, we want them back in the school,” Gov. Ned Lamont said during a discussion about the LEAP program in Meriden on Monday.

“Connecticut’s RESCs are uniquely organized to assist with this critical work,” Dr. Jeffrey Kitching, executive director at RESC Alliance, said in a release. “We are connected within the schools and communities involved and have the professional capacity to quickly and effectively provide kids and families the necessary supports.”

The visits are designed to identify and address the needs that students and their families face — such as behavioral and mental health services, child care, housing concerns and other educational support services.

The participating districts —Bridgeport, The Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Manchester, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Stamford, Torrington, Waterbury, and Windham — were selected based on the percentage of English learners, students eligible for free or reduced lunch, student enrollment, attendance rates and the number of weeks of in-person school.

“For example, a district with high student enrollment and proportion of [free and reduced lunch] and [English learning] students, but low attendance and availability of remote or hybrid instruction, would rank as being high-need for additional investment in student attendance and engagement supports,” Peter Yazbak, spokesperson for the state department of educations, said in an email.

During the week of March 29 to April 2, 70.1% of districts in the state offered in-person learning, 27.4% offered hybrid and 2.5% were offering full-remote learning.

The state’s attendance data continue to show that students who are learning entirely remotely are likely to be absent more days. Students who are homeless, in special education, in low-income households or are English learners are more likely to be learning remotely and are nearly missing up to twice as much school as their peers when they learn entirely from home.

“We still know that certain populations, students experiencing homelessness or students eligible for free or reduced price meals, we still know that there’s still absence that’s occurring,” said Acting Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker. “So how do we finish the year strong? Right, and a part of this program is to go out there and say, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening to home? What’s happened with the kids? How do we engage them even before the school year ends?’”

“Chronic absenteeism and disengagement continue to be barriers to success,” Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, said in a release. “These problems have become exacerbated during this pandemic, especially in high need school districts.”

“The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for all of our students, teachers, and parents in Connecticut,” Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said. “While we made great strides in getting federal funds to states in their time of need, we must ensure that those funds are used in transformative and bold ways to support the whole student and their families.”

Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.

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