PDE Disseminates Suicide Prevention Materials (October 6, 2020)

Following the recognition of September as National Suicide Prevention Month, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and its partners are highlighting several resources to support school communities in their youth suicide prevention efforts.  All of the below resources may be accessed through the Prevent Suicide PA website at https://www.preventsuicidepa.org/.

 For additional resources to support your school-based suicide prevention efforts, visit PDE’s Act 71 page and Prevent Suicide PA’s Act 71 page.

PDE Announces Free Mikayla’s Voice Program Opportunities (October 5, 2020)

On October 9, 2020, BSE Director Carole L. Clancy, released a PennLink memo to all LEAs titled 2020-21 Inclusive Programming Opportunities through Mikayla’s Voice announcing inclusive programming for the 2020-21 school year. When schools closed in March, Mikayla’s Voice reinvented each of their programs to allow remote delivery. Their inclusion books, assemblies, art projects, and new enrichment website can now be accessed from individual classrooms or homes. Free programs listed below are available for schools and will be awarded on a first come, first served basis.

Inclusion Assemblies: Until large group activities may resume, Mikayla’s Voice is well-prepared to remotely facilitate valuable discussion about inclusion and demonstrate children’s capacity for understanding, acceptance, and compassion. Virtual presentations will include all the elements of live assemblies. The remote assembly includes short video segments to enhance viewer experience, video and audio equipment, and an educational video conferencing platform to allow inclusion assemblies to be safe and effectively live streamed to as many as 500 classrooms or homes. Presenters will be joined by a student or young adult with a disability and share the book Our Friend Mikayla. Students can use live chat to ask any and all questions and will be invited to serve as Mikayla’s Voice in their school and community.

Wheels of Friendship®:  In a unique program developed and coordinated by Mikayla’s Voice, children paint not with brushes, but with the wheels of a wheelchair (or walker) and the paws (and tail) of a service dog.  Having started with a focus on the inclusion of people with physical disabilities, the program has expanded to represent additional disabilities. In this program, Mikayla’s Voice supplies 24 individual art “kits,” and facilitates a live virtual group art lesson. A video tutorial link is also provided so instruction can be revisited, if necessary. Finally, written directions, including photos, make it possible for students without computer or internet access to participate as well.

Mikayla’s Bookshelf: This is a newly created, enrichment website providing lessons for teachers and schools to introduce or reinforce Mikayla’s Voice message and mission with their students. Mikayla’s Bookshelf includes all three of their books in a fun, page turning electronic format, so they may be shared in every classroom or home, as needed. To ensure equity for all, books can be sent home for students who do not have adapted technology to access a website, and all three are available as braille copies. These books are the foundation for enrichment lessons related to the themes of inclusion, kindness, and friendship, each aligned to PA state standards, and addressing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies. They include Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies, with direct links to supplemental support information such as: text to speech, speech to text, word banks, passive assistance, and hand under hand, with further technical assistance if required. All lessons and supports are available in printable .pdf versions so teachers may share with families who might not have computer and/or internet access.

 Participating schools are asked to help with pre and post data collection to measure the global quality of the programs and their ability to improve school culture and community.  Mikayla’s Voice has partnered with researchers at Lehigh University as part of our ongoing program assessment for improvement and replication.

 Interested schools can contact Rita Cheskiewicz, Executive Director at 570-690-7113 or rita@mikaylasvoice.org or Kimberly Resh, Program Director, at 610-746-2324 or kim@mikaylasvoice.org to participate in Mikayla’s Voice programming. 

 Mikayla’s Voice website can be found at www.mikaylasvoice.org.

US House Passes CR to Extend Waivers for Federal Food Programs for School-aged Children to Continue through SY 2020-21 (September 27, 2020)

On September 23, 2020,  the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) that includes $8 billion in funding to support school nutrition programs through the end of the 2020-21 school year, allowing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend all Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) waivers through the end of the school year. The USDA in August had extended waivers through December 31, 2020, but without the CR those waivers will expire.

The waivers provide schools with meal distribution flexibility, and the extensions are needed to ensure that children under the age of 18 have consistent access to breakfast and lunch during the entire 2020-21 school year.  The waiver extensions will permit schools to continue offering meals to all children at no charge, minimizing the challenges of meal service and ensuring that students have access to food during the pandemic.

H.R. 3337, which is the bill that contains the CR, seeks to avoid a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2020 and extends federal funding through December 11, 2020.

The bill must now be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law before it can become effective. 

To view HR 3337, click here.

Feds to Ship Millions of COVID-19 Tests​ to Schools (September 26, 2020)

At a September 23, 2020 Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said the federal government will ship millions of COVID-19 tests on a weekly basis to help schools stay open. However, that testing should be part of a multi-pronged approach to limit spread of the disease, including hygiene, social distancing, wearing masks and limiting time in public as is feasible.

At the same hearing, Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated that young adults continue to play a role as major contributors to the spread of the coronavirus, but they are unlikely to get seriously sick from the virus. 

Click here to view video of the hearing.

Gov. Wolf Vetoes HB 2787 Re School Fall Activities (September 24, 2020)

Earlier this week, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed House Bill 2787, which would have mandated that school fall activities be under the sole jurisdiction of local school districts. The governor considered the bill to be superfluous given that local school governing bodies already have authority, but it would restrict state and local officials’ ability to respond to health concerns and potential outbreaks as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Click here to access Governor Wolf’s HB 2787 veto message.