Building Self-Identity and Mapping the Future: How Delaware is Beginning to Rethink Middle School

At a Glance...
-Delaware and other states are reconsidering the role of Career and Technical Education and counseling in middle school (grades five through eight) in preparing young people for the road ahead.
-A local committee is in the early stages of a project known as Rethinking Middle Grades—focused on creating supports and programming for students that connects learning and self-image.
-Part of the Delaware Pathways initiative, this programming will middle schoolers build bridges to high school and help them identify areas of interests as they select schools and pathways.

National leaders like Advance CTE are helping lay the groundwork for middle grades redesign.

Having been cited and celebrated as a national leader in career pathways, Delaware has built a robust career and technical education (CTE) system that is integral to high school in Delaware. Despite the state’s success, it has become increasingly clear that starting earlier with career exploration, experiential learning, and positive identity development, from an equity lens, are the next major areas of focus.

As partners in the work reflect on, expand, and reshape career and technical education, new initiatives have kicked off to both address blind spots of the past and create innovative programming for the future. One of the big shifts comes with building equitable programming as early as fifth grade that fosters student self-and occupational identity.

This project, known as Rethinking Middle Grades, focuses on creating strong supports and programming for middle-grade students to meaningfully connect exploration, learning, and a positive self-image to occupations and their community.

Students enter eighth grade knowing that high school is right around the corner. With the work of this project, new CTE standards for middle grades, counseling models, and connection between in- and out-of-school experiences would allow that student to at least begin thinking about the road ahead.

Such supports would help to increase career awareness and exposure, increase self-awareness and potential occupational identity, and develop both foundational and employability skills—before students enter high school, where they are expected to select a career “pathway” or area of study.

What’s Happening in Delaware?

“Rethinking Middle Grades” is still in its early stages, and these concepts won’t be classroom-ready in Delaware for at least a few more years.

For now, the group is working to build equitable and well-rounded CTE programming in middle grades (typically grades five through eight) that cultivates student identity through youth-centered career exploration.

This work, led by a steering committee of diverse partners in communities, schools, industries, and organizations across Delaware, looks to foster and celebrate a young person’s identity, assets, and aspirations as they build an in-depth understanding of their in- and out-of-school communities, the working world and their place in these spaces.

To be clear, this group is not building the rigorous career pathways that today enroll thousands of Delaware high school upperclassmen. Instead, the goal is to set students up for success prior to entering high school, for it is important that every student enters high school having found success in career education, academic, and social-emotional programming in middle grades that inspires their identity and a path to postsecondary success.

Why It’s Not “Middle School Pathways” And Other Answers We Know Now

Why middle grades?

The expansion of pathways in high school over the past few years showed that many students arrive in ninth grade without a positive and healthy self-image and sense of place as it relates to their school, community, and their future occupation. These gaps are usually caused by inconsistent access to resources, an unequal playing field, and low expectations often applied to middle school-aged youth.

Does this mean Delaware pathways programs will be available in middle school?

Content-specific pathway programs will remain a core part of the high school experience. The middle grades project allows students to have a stronger understanding of their options and be well-equipped to make decisions on pathways and early postsecondary opportunities that best suit their interests, goals, and identity in high school. By providing structures, intentional programming, and training, this design project will eventually give students the tools and supports they need for self and career exploration.

Does this shift in programming lock students into a specific pathway?

Since students will be engaged in exploration opportunities, it does not lock students into a specific pathway. Instead, it provides them with the opportunity, supports, and tools to explore their interests and the potential pathways, occupations, and opportunities that connect to those interests.

Aren’t middle school students too young to know what career path they want to explore?

Every student is different. Some students may know what careers interest them at a young age while others may need time trying different careers. Regardless, it is never too early to name one’s assets and interests. Educators are charged with listening to their students and learning about their passions and gifts. Young people should have access to coaches who offer inquiry and resources that connect them to an evolving vision of their future in work and in the community.

What about students who want to go to college or the military?

This shift in middle school programming is for all students. All students benefit from exploring their interests and developing a positive and healthy self-image as it relates to their school, community, and future occupational identity. In order for high school to be a launching place for young people to accomplish their postsecondary goals (whether it is to attend college, enter the workforce, etc.), middle grades must provide programming that fosters exploration of interests and makes intentional connections to career and postsecondary paths that young people can see, plan for, and actualize.

What will this tangibly look like in middle schools?

We aren’t certain what the final product will actually look like when all three phases of the design process are complete.

We know that coming out of each phase will be a framework that will drive change in middle grades. For example, the first phase of work is the creation of CTE standards in middle grades. These standards will be drafted this summer and will be up for public review and feedback this fall. The final product of this phase will be standards for middle grades teachers and counselors and a related profile of a high school-ready student to guide and drive career exploration and identity development in middle grades.

How Will Delaware Schools Spend Federal Stimulus Funds? A Breakdown

At a Glance...

– Delaware received $411 million for K-12 education as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act.
-Local schools and districts submitted formal plans detailing how they will use these funds.
-Some key themes have emerged from those plans, including: addressing learning loss, educational technology, mental health services, and serving low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, and more.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, the third federal stimulus package since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, provides $350 billion for states, local governments, territories and tribal governments, with around $125 billion nationally earmarked for K-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding stream.

Out of the $125 billion dollars in the ESSER III pot, Delaware received approximately $411 million. As written in the federal law, 10 percent of Delaware’s funding went to the state Department of Education (DDOE), and the remaining 90 percent went directly to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), otherwise known as districts and charter schools.

In order to receive the full amount of funding under ESSER III, both the DDOE and LEAs are required to submit plans detailing how they will use these funds (which in turn were required to be posted publicly). DDOE’s plan was submitted in June and recently approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

As of this week, all of the district and charter school plans have been posted on DDOE’s website.

We looked at all of the 42 plans to understand how LEAs in Delaware plan to use their funding.

Update (2/16/22): Check out this latest analysis from FutureEd @ Georgetown University, which breaks down local spending by district poverty level, among many other revealing highlights.

Guidelines for LEAs

  • Funding was distributed to LEAs based on Title I.
  • LEAs were required to use 20 percent of their funding to address the academic impact of learning loss on their students. All plans meet and, in some cases, exceed that minimum. Other than that, the guidelines were focused on the impact of the pandemic on students and schools.
  • As outlined in the state’s ESSER plan, at a minimum, LEA plans had to describe the following:
    • How funds will be used to implement COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies
    • How LEAs will use the mandatory set-aside for learning loss and other allowable uses
    • How the LEA will ensure that the ESSER funded interventions will respond to the needs of all students, and particularly students disproportionately impacted by COVID-19
  • The plans vary, with some providing detailed information for each initiative and use of funding and other plans offering general or minimal detail.
  • The plans are district-level and charter school-level—there are no individual school-based plans within districts available on the Delaware Department of Education’s website.


Learning Loss, Technology, Lead Areas of Focus

Districts and charters had to identify on which areas out of 14 provided in the grant they plan to focus their portion of ESSER III funds. Out of the 14 areas, the five most commonly identified include:

  1. Addressing Learning Loss
  2. Purchasing Educational Technology
  3. Providing Mental Health Services and Supports
  4. Other Activities for Maintenance of Operations and Continuity of Service
  5. Supports for Students with Additional and/or Greater Needs

District and Charters Focus Areas for ESSER III Funding

Focus Area (FA) Approximate Number of LEAs Percent**
FA1: Learning Loss (mandatory focus area) 42 100%
FA11: Purchasing Educational Technology 29 69%
FA14: Maintenance of Operations and Continuity of Service 27 64%
FA12: Providing Mental Health Supports and Services 24 57%
FA8: Address Additional or Greater Needs of Children* 22 52%
FA13: Summer Learning and After-School Activities 20 48%
FA6: Repair and Improve School Facilities Reduce Risk 19 45%
FA7: Improving Air Quality 19 45%
FA5: Purchase Supplies for Sanitizing Facilities 15 36%
FA2: Develop Strategies for Public Health Protocols 10 24%
FA10: Planning for Long-Term Closure Activities 8 19%
FA3: Coordinating COVID-19 Preparedness and Response 7 17%
FA9: Procedures for Preparedness and Response Efforts 6 14%
FA4: Training and on Minimizing Spread of Disease 1 2%


*This includes children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth.

**Percent is out of the total number of LEAs (which is 42)
Note: “LEAs” include districts and charter schools. Numbers are approximate based on analysis of plans.

Source: Delaware Department of Education (2021). District, charter spending plans. Retrieved from:  

When looking at the money allocated to the focus areas identified by districts only, repairing facilities and improving air quality emerges as a major theme—and a major price tag.  While more districts identified purchasing education technology over improving air quality as a focus area, improving area quality carries a much higher allotment of money.

District-Only Focus Areas for ESSER III Funding with Amount of Funding Allocated

Focus Area Range Approximate Number of Districts That
Prioritized This
Focus Area
FA1: Learning Loss (mandatory focus area) $75M-100M 19
FA7: Improving Air Quality $75M-100M 14
FA11: Purchasing Educational Technology $50M-75M 16
FA14: Maintenance of Operations and Continuity of Service $25M-50M 15
FA6: Repair and Improve School Facilities Reduce Risk $25M-50M 13
FA8: Address Additional or Greater Needs of Children* $1M-25M 12
FA12: Providing Mental Health Supports and Services $1M-25M 12
FA13: Summer Learning and After-School Activities $1M-25M 12
FA5: Purchase Supplies for Sanitizing Facilities $1M-25M 11
FA2: Develop Strategies for Public Health Protocols $1M-25M 6
FA10: Planning for Long-Term Closure Activities $1M-25M 6
FA3: Coordinating COVID-19 Preparedness and Response $1M-25M 5
FA9: Procedures for Preparedness and Response Efforts $1M-25M 4
FA4: Training and on Minimizing Spread of Disease $1M-25M 1


*This includes children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth.

Note: This chart does not include charter school focus areas or allocations. Some districts included portions of their ESSER II funding in their budget allocations in their ESSER III plans.

Source: Delaware Department of Education (2021). District, charter spending plans. Retrieved from:

Further, the chart below shows the approximate percentage breakdown of where districts are allocating their ESSER III money by focus area. As shown below, a little over three quarters of the funding is allocated to the following areas:

  • Learning Loss
  • Improving Air Quality
  • Purchasing Educational Technology
  • Repair and Improvement of School Facilities
  • Maintenance of Operations and Continuity of Service

Focus Areas by Approximate Amount Allocated by Districts

*This includes children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth.

Note: This chart does not include charter school focus areas or allocations. Some districts included portions of their ESSER II funding in their budget allocations in their ESSER III plans.

Source: Delaware Department of Education (2021). District, charter spending plans. Retrieved from:

Hiring Staff, Mental Health, and Extra Learning Opportunities, A Major Focus

LEAs were also required to answer more targeted questions about the general plan and use of ESSER III funds. Combined with the focus areas, six areas were most commonly identified.

  1. Address learning loss evidence-based interventions that respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups.

Trends across all districts and charters are clear within this required bucket of spending. Many schools are relying on evidence-based practices for accelerated learning to address learning loss brought on by the pandemic. All schools mentioned versions of the following:

  • Additional learning opportunities, primarily after-school and summer school, with many LEAs pointing to learning opportunities provided in summer 2021. Some LEAs also mentioned mandatory and voluntary credit and course recovery for high school students.
  • High-dosage tutoring, including one-on-one and small group sessions in the form of mandatory, targeted interventions for identified students, and/or opportunities for all students.
  • Purchasing tools and curriculum materials for seamless learning both in-person and virtually. Many LEAs mentioned the use of various digital platforms for interventions, assessments, and extended learning. Others mentioned the use of new curriculum materials and platforms that target need, provide access to on-grade materials, and support accelerated learning. A few LEAs (around 10) included the continued use or intent to purchase high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) as part of this funding.


  1. Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, connectivity, assistive technology, and adaptive equipment) for students that aids into support regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including students from low-income families and children with disabilities.

Overwhelmingly, schools are using additional ESSER III funds for technology. Many LEAs pointed to the importance of a 1:1 device-to-student ratio but others included training for educators, hiring a technology consultant or supervisor, licenses for digital learning tools, and updating infrastructures such as broadband and Wi-Fi.

  1. Providing mental health services and supports, including evidence-based, full-service community schools and the hiring of counselors. Many LEAs (around 20) prioritized social and emotional learning (SEL) in their plans and plan to use funds for purchasing SEL curriculum, hiring SEL coordinators, training for staff, and using SEL tools to understand where students are.
  2. Other activities that are necessary to maintain operations and continuity of service, including continuing to employ existing or hiring new LEA and school staff. Almost every school mentioned the hiring of additional staff, or funding current staff, to provide interventions, add additional support staff in classrooms, support students’ behavioral, academic, social emotional, and overall mental health needs.

The majority of plans (around 30) mentioned hiring new staff for positions like interventionists, counselors, psychologists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and others. Plans also mentioned addressing substitute needs, transportation needs, and indirect costs.

  1. Addressing the needs of children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth. LEAs mentioned using the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) framework to determine student academic, behavioral, and social emotional need, determine the right intervention (like summer or after-school learning) and monitor progress.

Others pointed to utilizing screeners for mental health and socioemotional needs, working to provide workshops and enhance communication with families, and partnering with outside organizations.

  1. Investments in infrastructure and COVID mitigation. Prior to ESSER III plans, schools were required to share how they planned to bring students and staff back safely for the current school year. Many of these plans identified protocols, services, and safety measures to mitigate COVID-19 in school buildings. In ESSER III plans, LEAs overwhelmingly prioritized the following: (1) purchase PPE and cleaning supplies, (2) purchase new or repair HVAC in school buildings, and (3) updates to air filter systems. Other areas worth mentioning include the hiring of nurses or nursing staff and the purchasing of furniture, tents, and other items for distancing and reduced class sizes.

Stay tuned to the Rodel blog for more updates as they come.

Providers, Families, Business Community Agree: Delaware’s Child Care Crisis Imperils More than Just Parents

At a Glance...

– Delaware’s child care crisis has far-reaching effects, from the household to the local business community, according to recent survey data.
– Employers cite lack of child care for stalled workforce and recruitment efforts.
– 96 percent of child care centers in Delaware are experiencing a staffing shortage, leaving families to face long waitlists.

For Delaware parents with young kids like Rodel’s own Kim Lopez, the state’s child care crisis is a daily reality.

But today, the crisis has spilled beyond just households with kids and their would-be child care centers.

The ripple effects into businesses, the general workforce, and the overall economy are resonating clearly. Three recent surveys provided insights into how three cross-sections of society are grappling with child care challenges as the pandemic lingers on.

Impact on Delaware Businesses

As evident during the pandemic, the lack of available (or affordable) child care has a massive effect on the economy and workforce participation. A report by ReadyNation found that nationally, lack of child care was the third-most-reported reason for unemployment in December 2020. A year after lockdown the same report found that approximately 15 percent of women ages 25 to 44 were not working due to problems with child care. Employers (around 30 percent) also stated that employees cite child care issues as a reason for employment changes.

Employers in Delaware are sharing their concerns about child care impacting their workforce and recruitment efforts. In an initial survey of Delaware employers, led by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia:

  • 78 percent are concerned or extremely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 adversely impacting employee productivity for parents in the workplace
  • 72 percent have found it difficult, very difficult, or extremely difficult to recruit/retain employees because of the impact COVID-19 has had on child care and school schedules


Their concerns about employees include: high cost of care, availability of care, and lower productivity. Click here to see more results.

“The bulk of our daily absenteeism is for child care,” said one survey respondent. “With schools not fully operational and child care at an all-time low, it is difficult to get child care.”

The DSCC has included child care as essential in its Road to Recovery plan, recognizing the importance of child care for employer recruitment and retention.

[Read: The Economics of Child Care from Delaware Business magazine]

Impact on Providers and the Child Care Workforce

Like most industries, the pandemic exasperated the early childhood staffing challenge. A recent national survey on child care programs and the pandemic showed that 96 percent of child care centers in Delaware are experiencing a staffing shortage (with many serving fewer children). Many have had to reduce their operating hours in order to cope with the shortage while others have had to close classrooms. Some providers that have capacity do not necessarily have the ability to enroll up to capacity due to the workforce shortage, leaving families to face indefinite waitlists.

When looking at recruitment challenges, 73 percent of survey respondents identify wages as the biggest factor because potential applicants are recognizing they can make more money working elsewhere. Similarly, 57 percent of respondents said that low wages are the most common reason that educators leave the field.

The crisis in the field has left 46 percent of respondents to consider leaving their program or closing their family child care within the next year.

While Delaware has relied on federal stimulus dollars to support centers and families, these new funds address the new problems brought on by the pandemic meaning, the old problems that plagued the child care industry before, are still very much present and further exasperated by the new challenges of COVID.

Higher costs associated with pandemic safety protocols, decreased enrollment, and lower revenue forced many child care centers nationwide and in Delaware to shut down classrooms or close their doors entirely. These new challenges have built on the financial predicaments early child care centers faced before the pandemic.

Impact on Children and Families

Almost half of all children ages three to four were not enrolled in an educational setting before kindergarten. While the issue is complex, there are two main reasons for the lack of enrollment: supply and affordability of quality child care.

In Delaware, there is an insufficient supply of options by location, age groups served, and hours of service. For example, 47 percent of the state’s birth through age five population live in Sussex and Kent counties. But those counties only contain 38 percent of the state’s early learning programs. Only 77 percent of programs accept infants under one year old, and only three percent of centers offer extended hours.

Child care is also expensive for families across income levels, pandemic or not. In Delaware, child care for one child costs approximately 20 percent of a median family income, or $13,000 per year, per child. Prior to the pandemic, the cost of child care led to half of Delawarean parents/guardians to not grow the economy – meaning they weren’t going back to school, working, having another child, or buying a house.

Higher costs associated with pandemic safety protocols, decreased enrollment, and lower revenue forced many child care centers nationwide and in Delaware to close their doors. While some child care facilities have reopened, many have multiple classrooms still closed.

According to the Delaware Readiness Teams survey from this summer, families continue to struggle finding care. While a majority of respondents indicated that they wanted their children to return to an educational setting, almost 40 percent of survey respondents indicated that their child(ren) was at home with a parent or other caregiver. Before the pandemic, about 40 percent of respondents indicated that they used full-time child care. However, during the crisis, that percentage dropped to 34 percent.

It’s not surprising then that more than half of families (60 percent) remain concerned about balancing family and work demands with caring for their child(ren).

Delawareans are speaking up. Click here to join advocates in urging lawmakers to increase child care investments

Delaware Makes National Headlines for High-Quality Instructional Materials

At a Glance...

-Curriculum and access to high-quality instructional materials are important drivers in student learning. Ensuring all students have access to grade-level materials is critical to their success.
-Delaware educators, in conversations facilitated by the Rodel Teacher Network, said they needed more state support on vetting and organizing online materials.
-Since then, Delaware schools made national headlines for using high-quality instructional materials and the positive impact made on educator and student success.
-A new statewide initiative aims to provide educators and school leaders with a rich library of resources and approaches to professional development for implementing and utilizing high quality instructional materials in classrooms.

Four Delaware Districts Become National Stars

Four local districts—Seaford, Cape Henlopen, Brandywine, and Red Clay—received some national kudos this summer.

Knowledge Matters, a nationwide issue campaign, is spotlighting districts across the country they consider superstars when it comes to high-quality instructional materials, specifically ones that “improve literacy, student engagement, and student achievement.”

The educator-, expert-, and science-backed movement even toured the country examining districts as they implement curricula that build students’ background knowledge as literacy skills are developed.

As covered by Kelly Carvajal-Hageman in her outstanding write-up in The 74 Million, Seaford was dead last among districts in nearly every standard measurable just six years ago. Today, the district is one of the highest achieving in Delaware as measured by English Language Arts state testing results.

How? As Carvajal-Hageman notes, Seaford started by focusing on professional development—leading to an eventual paradigm shift—a shared “Trust the process” mantra—among educators.

(Click here to learn about how Laurel School District unlocked its literacy challenges through the open-source, knowledge-rich “Bookworm” curriculum.)

As the Knowledge Matters suggests, educators have uncovered a multitude of techniques and strategies to utilize high-quality instructional materials (HQIM). Here are a few insights the Rodel team has heard from educators in the field:

  • Consistency across schools and districts. As we learned during the first few weeks of COVID-19, the most valuable resources were the ones readily available online that could be shared across schools in a district.
  • HQIM enable teachers to focus on scaffolding (not creating) materials. Not all online resources are created equal, and surveyed teachers were more familiar with Pinterest than with the Smarter Balanced Digital Library.
  • Conversations among educators are increasingly academic focused; having a common language on materials enables understanding and growth.
  • Value in standards-based grading. As noted by the Rodel Teacher Network, competency-based grading is an innovate way to encourage mastery for students.
  • Standards and rubrics have created greater purpose and ownership among educators, with a shared understanding of the destination.
  • Strengthens instruction and expands access so all learners receive access (and support for) to grade level material.

So, what is HQIM?

There is no “one weird trick” to guarantee delivery of a high-quality lesson to students—online or otherwise. Teacher quality is perhaps the best known among many factors that influence student progress and achievement. And, research suggests the quality of instructional materials themselves can also play a large role in student success.

Thanks to a wellspring of research on HQIM, schools, districts, and states like Delaware are working to ensure all students can access what is known as high-quality instructional materials.

HQIM are vetted, knowledge-rich resources and materials for learning that guide instruction. The Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) describes them as a “roadmap for teachers on how to plan, teach, and assess student learning.

What qualifies as an “instructional material” can include items such as lesson plans, assignments, homework, assessments, and others in a long list of materials for learning. What makes a material high quality however is the vetting of material and alignment to content standards.

While research demonstrates the positive impact HQIM can have on students, access to HQIM is another issue. Across the country, teachers can spend hours outside of their normal workday looking for materials or even creating their own. As shown in the Materials Matter survey conducted by the Rodel Teacher Network in 2019, many teachers turn to resources on the web for instructional materials and resources that may or may not be high quality.

When given access to HQIM and the proper professional learning and development to go with it, teachers are provided with a roadmap to follow and the assurance the materials have already been vetted and are of high quality.

”Delaware Delivers” on Expanding Access to HQIM

While some schools and districts have prioritized HQIM over the years, Delaware has more recently embarked on a statewide strategy to ensure all students have access to HQIM. Over the past three years alone, DDOE took steps to scale the adoption and implementation of HQIM, focusing on professional learning and supporting schools.

Source: Delaware Department of Education (2021). Screenshot from Delaware delivers: Overview of high-quality instructional materials.

Ensuring all students have access to HQIM is important, and Delaware already has made progress. Since 2018 alone, students with access to high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials has increased statewide.

Student Access to HQIM in Delaware, 2018-2021

Source: Delaware Department of Education (2021). Screenshot from Delaware delivers: Overview of high-quality instructional materials.

Access to HQIM in English Language Arts (ELA) has increased significantly for students across all grades between 2018 and 2021. In middle school, access to ELA HQIM increased from six percent to 43 percent. While the percentage of middle school students with access to HQIM in math stayed the same, the percentage of elementary and high school students with access increased. In elementary school, access to math HQIM went from 53 percent to 76 percent.

Additional data show that students of color and students from low-income families have increased access to high-quality instructional materials during the 2019 and 2021 window. Since 2019, Elementary school students of color with access to ELA HQIM increased from 30 percent to 55 percent. Middle school students from low-income families with access to middle school math HQIM grew from eight percent to 38 percent.

Check out the below video to learn more about local HQIM efforts, and stay tuned to DDOE’s HQIM website for any updates.