5 Ideas for Federal Stimulus Relief Funds to Transform Learning Spaces

5 Ideas for Federal Stimulus Relief Funds to Transform Learning Spaces

Author: Dr. Christina Counts

The Corona Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a set of plans and funds that aim to help schools rebuild with an emphasis on equity, classroom safety, social and emotional well-being, and academic success. The CARES act provides funding for a variety of different applications in schools through The Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSR) Fund.

Since the CARES Act was passed last year, two additional funding bills have been approved: HR 133, created in December 2020 and valid until October 2023; and the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which began in March 2021 and is valid until October 2024.

Investing these federal stimulus funds in the safest and most functional learning environments will ensure the well-being and academic success of students and educators in the waning days of the COVID-19 pandemic––and far into the future. CARES Act and American Relief Funds can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces to comply with social distancing. These stimulus funds are also available to implement intentional learning space designs that are easily reconfigured to support current health concerns while maintaining social-emotional learning for positive learning outcomes.

The top priority of the federal stimulus relief funds is for districts to make investments in resources that keep students, staff, and educators safe as schools implement the CDC’s K-12 operational strategy for in-person learning. MiEN’s versatile furniture supports the goals of this strategy and is a great investment of federal stimulus funds under these guidelines:

  1. Helps implement strategies that meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students.
  2. Makes improvements to school facilities that reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards.
  3. Addresses equity to meet the needs of diverse student populations and those most impacted by the pandemic.

In line with these guidelines, here are five ideas for transforming learning spaces with federal stimulus relief funding:

  1. Integrate Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning allows for students to experience engaging, interactive lessons in an environment that offers a lower risk of virus transmission. Not only do activities like nature walks and school gardens allow students space for discovery, exploration, and experimentation, but the outdoors can also be utilized exactly as a classroom space for lectures and individual study time. Schools may even consider the implementation of full outdoor classrooms, which offer students a seat and a table to work at, and even a WI-FI boost so they can use their devices just as effectively as they do in the traditional classroom.

  1. Purchase Educational Technology

An increased necessity for efficient and effective technology has arisen during the pandemic, but many students face socioeconomic barriers that make online learning inaccessible to them. Schools can invest in technology upgrades such as internet software and hardware to improve connectivity, assistive technology, or new technology aids for student instruction. Students also may benefit from new or improved technology for a school esports team, as an esports extracurricular offers a great opportunity for social and emotional learning, among other benefits.

  1. Focus on Social-Emotional Learning

According to Mental Health America, the mental well-being of our youth is worsening. In 2021, 9.7% of U.S. youth have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in 2020. Isolation, anxiety, and traumatic experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic have all had an impact on students, and it’s important to address these concerns as students return to the classroom. Create collaborative, comfortable spaces that support community and well-being. Allow students the space to socialize with peers (according to CDC guidelines), but also provide them with quiet spaces to decompress and focus on their personal needs and goals. Most students have spent the better part of the past year in their homes with just their families, and they will need time to readjust to the social and emotional elements of returning to school.

  1. Incorporate Adaptable Furniture

Adaptable furniture pieces allow for the transformation of a room as school needs change, including the event of another significant health crisis. Mobile furniture makes anywhere, anytime learning more accessible, and currently enables educators to transform the learning space for physical distancing needs. This extends to teachers’ workspace as well: a small, mobile teacher desk makes it easy for educators to move from space to space as health needs require or to shift within the classroom to meet changing academic needs. Finally, modular desks make it possible to create spaces for small groups, individual learning, or physically distanced seating as needed.

  1. Create Variety for Equity

Designing equitable spaces requires the use of a variety of different furnishings, so that students have the ability to choose the best furniture to align with their learning style. Some students may also benefit from the ability to change their learning station throughout the day or as they shift to working on different subjects. Whether students prefer to sit, stand, swivel, or lounge, giving them access to many options allows flexibility and gives them the opportunity to choose the environment that’s best for them.

As schools and campuses reopen, it’s a make-or-break moment for the future of education to expand educational opportunities. Choosing the best options for your school to transform learning as students return to the classroom will not only support students and their needs today but will prove to be invaluable choices that positively affect generations of students to come.

Dr. Christina Counts, VP of Strategy and Development for MiEN Environments, is a proven leader with a successful background in transforming learning spaces to modern engaging learning environments. Dr. Counts has worked in education for over 17 years with experience as a classroom teacher, district instructional leader, school administrator, and digital and innovative learning designer. In her most recent position, Christina leads a team of professionals that support schools making the transition to a flexible, collaborative, & student-centered learning space.  She holds a doctorate in K-12 Educational Leadership, National Board-certified, and Google & Apple certified. Dr. Counts envisions a learning space in which educators are empowered to transform education through design, technology and innovative instructional pedagogy to create learners ready for any future!