Most New Jersey schools were forced to offer virtual learning for a good part of last year and there has been a great deal of discussion about problems of learning loss, and students struggling with emotional stress.

The state Education Department this summer held a series of virtual roundtables to give students the chance share their feelings and experiences with virtual learning.

Most indicated virtual learning was a near-disaster, and several students talked about mental health struggles they have faced because of isolation brought on by the pandemic.

As part of an effort to support students academically and emotionally, Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan said districts will be eligible to apply for the first installment of American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds next week.

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Most of the $2.76 billion being delivered to New Jersey will be allocated to individual districts based on a formula established by the federal government. About 10% of funds is meant for targeted support, summer classes and mental health.

Schools will be able to apply for grants to create learning acceleration programs during the traditional school day as well as after-hours.

Allen–McMillan said mental health supports can include a general school-wide meditation period, smaller support groups and intensive one-on-one sessions that can "support students who may have individual needs, suicide ideation may be an example.”

A total of 23 COVID outbreaks involved 102 students, teachers and support staff, have taken place at New Jersey schools so far this academic year, but the overwhelming number of schools continue with full-time in-person instruction.

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