It’s no secret that students have suffered academically and emotionally throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But should the brunt of the recovery process be borne by schools alone, or is a more comprehensive, community-wide approach the best path forward?

Cue education leaders’ newfound interest in summer enrichment and afterschool programs. In places like Detroit, we’re already seeing fantastic results from districts using their American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to contract with local organizations and offer such enrichment opportunities.

That isn’t to say the 3 R’s aren’t important; they are especially so after the data we’re seeing on learning loss. However, enrichment opportunities like cooking classes and robotics programs could be great for kids who feel isolated and are struggling. Parent demand, especially among low-income, African American, and Hispanic families, is also well-documented.

What’s really interesting is since rural or small-town communities are known for their intensely tight bonds, these sorts of partnerships might be even easier for them to establish and could be highly effective. A massive labor shortage exists among ranches and farms right now, and students in these communities are often lamented for having less access to resources and opportunities than their peers in more traveled areas. Investing in these sorts of community partnerships could be a win-win for students and communities.

Not to mention, many districts are still looking for meaningful but sustainable initiatives to throw their ARP dollars at. While many have invested their funding in short-term intervention programs and positions, fear of an impending funding cliff may mean that investment in community programs could be the best play in the long run.

THIS COULD BE A PHENOMENAL IDEA TO COMBAT LEARNING LOSS AND HELP BRING “DISENGAGED” CHILDREN BACK INTO THE FOLD.So far, twelve states have already incorporated this idea into their ARP plans for approval by the Department of Education, but for those still drafting, this could be a phenomenal idea to combat learning loss and help bring “disengaged” children back into the fold. And if there’s one realization that educators have had throughout this pandemic, it’s that thousands of children have gone unaccounted for over the past year.

Many of these children, including students in poverty, students in foster care, English language learners, and undocumented students, were already considered at-risk before the pandemic. While most of us are ready for the world to get back to “normal,” it will truly take a community approach to build a better normal for all students.

If your district is doing some innovative, collaborative work with community partners, I want to hear about it! Drop a message in the comments or send me an email so we can all learn more.