Upper Darby school efforts praised as feds launch billion-dollar grant program

The exterior of Upper Darby High School is visible.

File photo: Upper Darby School District has struggled to fill teacher and support staff vacancies for the 2022-2023 school year. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Cindy Marten was impressed with what she saw during a March visit to several Upper Darby schools. The deputy secretary at the U.S. Dept. of Education was checking in on how schools were using funds from the American Rescue Plan.

Marten reflected on that visit as she helped announce a billion dollars in federal grant money to help schools across the country create safer and healthier learning environments.

“Safe and supportive schools help our children and our youth overcome trauma and provide a strong foundation of emotional and physical safety vital for their learning,” Marten said.

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“A great example of work that can be promoted from these efforts would be what’s happening in the Upper Darby School District in Pennsylvania. I actually had the privilege to visit this district earlier this year, and I was so impressed with the work that they were doing there in the Upper Darby School District.”

Upper Darby schools got a $2.2 million grant to improve school safety in elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as professional development programs to implement the Restorative Practices Initiative which was designed to help school leaders better manage behavior and improve interactions with students.

Now, schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware will be able to access more than $67 million in Stronger Connections federal grants through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

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“These grants will prioritize evidence-based efforts that advance equity,” Marten said. “Our focus must be wider than just physically safe school communities. We must also ensure that our students feel cultural and linguistic supports and provide ongoing professional development for our teachers and other school-based professionals.”

Pennsylvania will get approximately $41.8 million, New Jersey will get $20.9 million, and Delaware will get $4.8 million.

In a letter to school leaders, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said grant requests should focus on “strategies that meet student’s social, emotional, and mental well-being needs, as well as creating positive, inclusive, and supportive school environments.”

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