In visit to Kearny HS, Menendez touts the American Recovery Act and its local impact

New Jersey has 566 municipalities, but he chose Kearny to be the backdrop to discuss how funds from the American Recovery Act have helped schools across the state.

Jersey’s senior Sen. Robert Menendez joined U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., Kearny’s Assistant Superintendent of Schools Flora Encarnacao and other dignitaries at a roundtable in the Kearny High School library to also bring attention to how much education has changed in the face of a worldwide pandemic.

He also tackled how students across the state and country have fallen behind in their academics, while dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

“One of the most pressing concerns for families and educators across the nation is the learning loss facing students due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In New Jersey, studies show a third of students are performing below grade level in math and language arts, with that number increasing to 50% for Black and Latino students,” Menendez, who is of Cuban descent, said. “That is why I was proud to work with my Democratic colleagues in Washington to pass President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which provided New Jersey’s K-12 schools with more than $2.76 billion in emergency relief funding.

“Getting this funding into New Jersey’s schools is the key to making up for lost classroom time by providing tutoring before and after school, counseling services, and other resources to struggling parents and children.”

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New Jersey’s implementation plan allocated 90% of ARP ESSER funding directly to local school districts.

The districts must use 20% of the funding for learning-loss activities that address social, emotional and academic needs and the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on students from low-income and minority families. Some 5% of the overall ARP ESSER funding was reserved for state-level learning-loss activities.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Department of Education released data from state assessments showing only 64% of students meet or exceed grade-level proficiency in language arts and only 62% of students are at grade-level proficiency in math.

The numbers are even lower for Black, Asian and Latino students.

The Kearny School District serves over 5,000 students — 68% of those students identify as Hispanic or Latino, Asian or Black; 11% of students are English language learners and 18% require special education.

Through the ARP, Kearny received over $11 million in ESSER funding, with which it was able to hire an ESL coach and a social worker; implement a K-8 after-school program; training for teachers to better help ESL students; and HVAC upgrades in five elementary schools.

The district has also worked on closing the digital divide by providing Chromebooks to all students, iPads for early childhood students and WiFi Hotspots for families with connectivity issues at home.

Meanwhile, Kearny Assistant Superintendent of Schools Flora Encarnacao, a long-time educator and administrator in the district, was the local representative to the roundtable as Superintendent of Schools Patricia Blood was out of town Monday, Feb. 7. Encarnacao spoke of how vital the ARA funding was to keeping things strong here and how the funds allowed students, teachers and others, alike, to move forward in the pandemic era.

“It also cannot be understated how crucial and vital the American Rescue Plan and School Emergency Relief funding has been in carrying us through this pandemic and in strengthening our district as we move forward,” Encarnacao said. “Initially, it assisted us with the purchase of additional technology, online subscriptions and internet access that were needed to ensure that all of our students could engage in virtual learning successfully. This was in addition to the purchase of personal protective equipment and other supplies to help keep our students and staff safe, especially as they returned to in-person learning.

“Beyond this, the funding has provided us with the means to expand our after-school and summer programs at all grade levels so that we can accelerate student learning and provide students with enrichment activities and programs both in and out of the district with such partners as NJIT and Montclair State University. This has helped to promote student interests and give them the opportunity to once again interact with their peers. We are also implementing after-school family-engagement programs throughout our elementary, middle and high school where students and parents can learn and interact with one another in varied activities.”

Blood, meanwhile, echoed Encarnacao’s enthusiasm, via a written statement.

“We are extremely grateful for Sen. Menendez’s continued support of educational initiatives, especially for the assistance he has provided not only to the Kearny School District, but to every school district in New Jersey and throughout our country,” Blood said. “His work in helping to pass the American Rescue Plan and the additional funding it has provided to support student learning during the course of the pandemic and into the future, has had a tremendous impact on our ability to enhance student learning and provide the essential components to ensure educational success for all of our students.”

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, an organization he has served since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and X, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.