Strengthening Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities
OSSE made great strides implementing year two of our Roadmap for Accelerating Outcomes for Students with Disabilities. Developed with partners and colleagues across the education space and released in October 2020, the roadmap outlines the strategic direction and priorities for accelerating academic progress for students with disabilities across the District. As part of our focus on strengthening educator staff and leader capacity, OSSE launched the agency’s first micro-credential, Special Education Foundations, to train educators in skills essential to serving students with disabilities. Seventy-five educators and leaders piloted the micro-credential in fall 2021, and OSSE is standing up additional micro-credentials in the coming year. OSSE realized a major goal in the area of promoting appropriate identification and placement when the Strong Start team fully implemented the primary service provider (PSP) and teaming approach – a recognized best practice for providing early intervention services to children with a developmental delay or disability, to improve coordination and support for children and families (read more in our next story). Continuing our commitment to expanding access to actionable information and data, OSSE ensured the Special Education Resource Hub was updated with critical information before the start of the 2021-22 school year. The hub, which launched in 2020, provides students and families with answers to common questions around what to expect during the school year and information on how parents and family members can best support their students. Translated into multiple languages, the resource hub includes family-friendly responses to foundational questions on special education evaluation, service delivery, post-secondary transition and more.
Enhancing Early Intervention Services for DC Families
OSSE’s Strong Start team, which provides free early intervention therapies and services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays and their families, delivered services, both virtually and in-person, to more than 2,260 District families in 2021. The team also continued to find new, innovative ways to increase awareness of the program and enhance services to children and families. As part of OSSE’s long-running goal to expand Strong Start presence and visibility in wards 7 and 8, early intervention staff started working from a new Ward 7 location in July. The new Penn Branch facility will also serve as the venue for evaluations, family services and community events when the public health situation permits. In September, after many months of preparation, the Strong Start team fully implemented the primary service provider approach (PSP), which matches families with a lead early interventionist who serves as the primary provider on a child’s team of interventionists across disciplines. Working with a PSP helps families address their child’s specific developmental needs and gain new skills and confidence so they can better support their child’s growth and development. In addition to providing services, the PSP collaborates with the other team members to best use the group’s collective skills, experience and expertise to address new opportunities and challenges in a child’s development. Also in September, Strong Start launched a new online referral system, making it easier for families and community stakeholders to make referrals.
Supporting Student and Educator Mental Health
The need for comprehensive mental health supports and interventions in schools – for both students and educators –has grown tremendously in the past two years. It has been well documented that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental and emotional well-being of youth, with increased reports of high anxiety, grief and concern about academic success. Understanding this need, OSSE continued to build on its existing portfolio of mental health work in schools to support student and educator wellbeing and to address the trauma and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. In September, OSSE released a new, two-year grant program to build the capacity of DC public and public charter schools to understand and address the root causes of educator stress through educator wellness programs. In addition to offering an extensive catalog of trauma-informed and mental health professional learning sessions for educators and behavioral health professionals, OSSE hosted suicide prevention training sessions and subsequent technical assistance office hours for all DC public and public charter schools, trained more than 250 K-12 clinicians and supplied 101 schools with suicide prevention and intervention curriculum.
To further build capacity across the District for the development and maintenance of safe and supportive school environments, OSSE committed ESSER funds in 2021 to support the expansion of the Comprehensive School Based Behavioral Health System with a goal to increase access to clinical services in public schools across the District and ensure schools are fully staffed with behavioral health providers.
Improving Student Literacy Across the District
After the District received a $16 million Comprehensive Literacy State Development (CLSD) grant in 2020, OSSE continued to build on that momentum in 2021, awarding more than $13 million in subgrants to support literacy work for DC students. These funds will help support early language and literacy skills, increase the number of children reading on grade level in grade 3 through high school and improve literacy outcomes for nearly 8,800 disadvantaged and traditionally underserved children. OSSE will leverage its share of the CLSD funds to strengthen the educator workforce pipeline, develop a statewide literacy coaching program and enhance licensure requirements to increase all educators’ preparedness for literacy instruction. In October, OSSE released the District of Columbia Statewide Comprehensive Literacy Plan (CLP) – a robust framework grounded in the science of reading and evidence-based practices. The plan also incorporates substantial engagement from educators and families. The CLP reflects the District’s commitment to and belief that all children, regardless of background, must become successful readers to thrive in life. The CLP envisions all learners from birth through grade 12 having access to high-quality literacy instruction. The Guiding Principles for Literacy are included in the plan to advise the implementation of inclusive instruction, assessment, multi-tiered supports and professional learning.
ReEngaging DC Youth
Members of the OSSE DC ReEngagement Center (DC REC) dug into the program’s vision of closing achievement gaps and re-engaging youth in the District. In addition to launching street canvassing and District-wide advertising campaigns to reach more students and families across the District, the team also participated in the 2021 Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) by facilitating a six-week hybrid schedule summer experience for DC REC scholars. During the program, DC REC scholars were exposed to career counseling, educational and career exposure and workforce development. The DC REC’s MBSYEP scholars connected with community-based organizations and agency partners virtually and also participated in 2021 Beat the Streets Outreach events. The program connected scholars with American Job Center caseworkers who assisted with taking the skills and knowledge learned during the summer to prepare to enter the workforce.