Written by: Camille Veri

To help meet new and emerging needs of school communities during and after the pandemic, historic levels of federal funding for K-12 schools and districts are available through the American Rescue Plan’s ESSER (Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds. These dollars can be used to support schools with re-opening, to enhance COVID-19 safety protocols, and to support broad-ranging student services. 

Common Threads’ evidence-based cooking and nutrition education programs may align with various districts’ ESSER priorities, particularly around student health, social-emotional learning (SEL), and after-school enrichment. Common Threads’ services not only promote student wellness, but also support core academic learning through our interactive Small Bites nutrition education program and SEL competency development through self management and relationship skills while preparing snacks and meals during hands-on lessons. 

A 2020 report published by the Economic Policy Institute urges schools to re-envision school systems to “nurture the whole child” in the wake of the pandemic. The authors outline the critical importance of schools responding to children’s social-emotional needs given the challenges that many families, particularly those living in historically marginalized communities, have faced over the past year. The report emphasizes the benefits of developing both life skills and creativity in youth to keep them engaged and resilient in the face of challenges.

With the above context in mind, experiential in school and after-school cooking and nutrition education programs can be a worthwhile and impactful use of your school or district’s ESSER dollars. Below we have briefly summarized some of the ways that Common Threads’ programs support the goals of ESSER. 

Please contact us at info@commonthreads.org if your school or district is interested in bringing Common Threads’ in-school and after-school cooking and nutrition education programs to your school or district with the support of ESSER funding. Additionally, take a look at this brief report by the Texas Association of School Administrators, which provides examples of ways schools can utilize ESSER funds and specifically highlights Common Threads’ programs as an example of critical wrap-around services.

Eligible ESSER Funding Uses:

“Activities that address unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youths, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.”

  • Common Threads has a history of providing in school and after-school programs for students of diverse backgrounds and abilities, including both in person across our 10 core cities and virtually nationwide. We work closely with school partners to ensure an accessible program experience that meets their students and families where they are. Lessons feature recipes that feed four people at an average serving cost of $2.50 per person. Certain Common Threads’ curriculum materials are available in both English and Spanish, and we work to provide bilingual instructors when working with English language learners. Additionally, we prioritize cultural relevance of our programming and celebrate cultural foods as part of our food philosophy. 

“Planning and implementing summer learning and supplemental afterschool program activities, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months.”

  • Common Threads’ services, including our academically aligned Small Bites nutrition education curriculum and our hands-on cooking programs, are available year-round for school partners that wish to provide enrichment opportunities during the summer months. Partners can opt into in person or virtual programming. 

“Any activities authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

  • The ESEA Act encompasses a variety of school support services for students and families. Title IV focuses on programs that support a well-rounded education, healthy students, after-school programs, and family engagement. Title II highlights programs for educators. Common Threads offers youth programs (for students preK-8) during and after-school, parent/caregiver engagement programs, and educator professional development, supporting whole-child learning and empowering students, families, and teachers as change agents for healthier schools.

“Purchasing educational technology, which could include hardware, software, and connectivity, for students served by the LEA that aids in regular, substantive educational interaction between students and educators.”

  • Common Threads’ TEACH portal (Teaching Everyone About Cooking and Health) includes webinars, curricula, and ongoing professional development training for educators interested in bringing cooking and nutrition education into their classrooms. 

Below we have provided supplemental information about ESSER funding, as well as links to a few resources for further reading about ways to utilize ESSER funds to benefit your school community.

More About ESSER Funds
What are ESSER funds?

ESSER (Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds were relief bills directed by Congress in 2020 and 2021 to help schools create safe learning environments, address learning loss caused by the pandemic, and support students’ mental health. Over $190.5 billion has been allocated for K-12 education administrators to have the opportunity to make strategic investments. Funds were initially portioned out to the state governments which were then distributed to local school districts. It is then up to the discretion of the school district how they want to allocate the funds based on their individual priorities and needs. ESSER funds must be used prior to March 30th, 2023. 

Who can access ESSER funds?

ESSER funds are available to K-12 public schools, nonprofit private schools, and charter schools. 

How can ESSER funds be used?

States cannot set restrictions regarding how the local districts use the funds. Districts are allowed to use the funds according to any use under the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Adult Education & Family Literacy Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act. The Department of Education has provided school districts with “considerable flexibility” as to how the funds are used, in response to the needs of the district. As ESSER funds were made possible in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the funds are intended to be used to address inequities that students face that became more apparent through the pandemic. 

  • COVID 19 Response
  • Long Term School Closure
  • Addressing Learning Loss
  • Student Mental Health
  • Staff Development