Supporting Local STEM Efforts with ESSR and ARP Funds

originally published OCTOBER 2021

As states continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Program (ESSER) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to local education agencies. These funds will help local education agencies respond to emergent needs in schools and communities. The following information can serve as a guide for districts, community schools and stakeholders as they make local decisions regarding how to direct ESSER and ARP funds to programs and initiatives.


Impact on Education

The U.S. Department of Education emphasized supporting student populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic increased challenges and barriers for students including inconsistent access to STEM/STEAM curriculum and supports.

Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

Local education agencies are required to submit plans for the use of ESSER ARP funds to the Ohio Department of Education. A first step in the planning process is to identify needs using the One Needs Assessment and then build the plan with a broad range of stakeholders as part of the ED STEPS process.
As part of the planning process, local education agencies are encouraged to analyze local data that can help identify strengths and existing gaps in student achievement. Additionally, the local education agency is encouraged to analyze the professional development needs of staff related to any instructional practices, materials or assessments.

General Funding Considerations and Practical Advice

The ESSER ARP federal funds are one-time investments that should be managed carefully. These funds generally should not be used to provide on-going services, as such service may have to be abruptly terminated when federal funds expire. Rather, the funds should be used for one-time or short-duration intensive supports that address impact of the education disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic or that otherwise build the capacity of the system to operate effectively or meaningfully for students. More information on using ESSER ARP funds may be found in the comprehensive ESSER ARP guidance created by the Ohio Department of Education.
In general, when determining strategies to spend the ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER ARP funds, local education agencies should consider the following five questions:
  1. Will the proposed use of funds “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus”?
  2. Is the proposed use of funds allowable under the Coronavirus Aid, Resources and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act and/or the American Rescue Plan (ARP)? Click here for a broad list of ESSER ARP allowable uses.   
  3. Is the proposed use of funds reasonable and necessary?
  4. Does the proposed use of funds promote equity?
  5. Does the proposed use of funds support returning students to the classroom?

What is STEM?

STEM education is an evidence-based, student-centered approach to teaching and learning which builds a bridge between the classroom and real-world application in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through STEM education, students experience the intentional integration of content through problem-based learning experiences. These learning experiences are designed to empower students to take ownership of their learning, engage in critical thinking, collaborate and strategize with teammates, learn through the design cycle to craft possible solutions and make evidence-based explanations. With STEM education, students experience the natural connections between the arts and humanities and the STEM disciplines. STEM education creates pathways to post-secondary success for K-12 students through partnerships and career exploration with community entities. These connections help build a robust STEM pipeline for Ohio’s future economy.

Special Note: LEAs should expect significant oversight by state and federal auditors on the spending of their ARP ESSER federal funds. The LEA should have a written explanation of how the expenditure using these ARP ESSER funds was made to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus. It is important that the LEA maintain documentation and be able to provide evidence that demonstrates compliance with the allowable uses of these federal resources. 


STEM Summer Learning

Summer learning is an extension of the school year to provide students with additional opportunities to reach mastery of content learned during the school year. Using an interdisciplinary approach with STEM, students can engage with multiple content areas simultaneously. Students may engage in summer STEM through camps, courses and/or STEM internships.


STEM After-school Programs

STEM After-school programs provide students the opportunity to extend and supplement their learning from the school day.
Possible STEM After-school supports:
  • Future City: Future City provides students with a project-based learning experience where students build a city for the future while identifying, researching and solving problems commonly found in today’s cities. Future City works well in both an after-school environment and a classroom.
  • National Inventors Hall of Fame: The National Inventors Hall of Fame offers numerous programs that support STEM and challenge students to think like inventors. The National Inventors Hall of Fame also provides professional development and curriculum to support the inventor’s mindset school wide.
  • COSI Connect Kits: COSI has created kits focused on a central STEM concept that bring their COSI Connect learning experiences together in a curated box. Each box contains all materials and lessons for students to engage in hands-on STEM learning experiences.


High Quality STEM Professional Development

High Quality STEM professional development supports educators in strengthening their practice in the following areas:
  • Creating interdisciplinary learning experiences for students;
  • Problem/project-based learning;
  • Personalized learning;
  • Mastery grading;
  • Workforce development;
  • Design thinking; and
  • Habits of the mind.
High Quality STEM professional development requires teachers to be collaborative and connect learning to real-world problems. The professional development allows teachers to engage in goal setting, implement practices and revise implementation for the duration of the school year.

Possible High Quality STEM Professional Development:
  • The Launch Cycle: The Launch Cycle is a K-12 design cycle framework. All content area teachers can use the Launch Cycle and practices within their classrooms.
  • The Grid Method: Teach Better provides professional development and resources to support teachers in implementing a mastery-grading approach, growth mindset and student engagement strategies in their classroom. They provide both free resources and professional development with a fee.
  • PBL Works: PBL Works is a national leader in providing professional development and educator support through project-based learning. Project-based learning is central to curriculum design in a STEM approach to teaching. PBL Works focuses on a student-centered approach to teaching that includes inquiry learning, personalized learning and performance-based assessment.
  • The Past Foundation: The Past Foundation provides a variety of professional development experiences for teachers interested in STEM as an approach to teaching. The Past Foundation focuses on STEM best practices such as habits of the mind, design thinking and project/problem-based learning.


STEM Focused Curriculum Supports

STEM curriculum is hands-on, interdisciplinary, problem/project-based and engages students in real-world learning. STEM curriculum supports are meant to enrich the current learning in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics while connecting it to the other disciplines. STEM curriculum aligns to Ohio’s Learning Standards for the discipline areas.
Possible STEM Curriculum supports:
  • Project Lead the Way: Project Lead the Way is PreK-12 STEM curricula. Project Lead the Way connects tomorrow’s career pathways with students in today’s classrooms. Project Lead the Way offers programs centered around building a foundation in STEM skills to career-specific programs for Computer Science, Engineering and Biomedical Science.
  • STEMscopes: STEMscopes is a curriculum and professional development resource aligning the STEM disciplines with STEM practices.


STEM as a School-wide Approach

The Department, in partnership with the Ohio STEM Learning Network, supports schools in implementing a school-wide STEM approach. This approach moves beyond focusing on the STEM disciplines to shifting how the school implements education. Ohio’s Quality Model for STEM and STEAM Education outlines the foundational practices for a school-wide STEM model. In addition to the Quality Model, many of Ohio’s STEM and STEAM schools provide professional development to schools interested in learning about a school-wide STEM approach. Please reach out to individual school leaders about school tours and supports. The Ohio STEM Learning Network hosts the Innovative Leaders Institute. The institute provides participants with a year-long program that promotes a school climate and culture that embraces innovation and supports instructional leadership and staff.
For questions or more information, please contact

Return to Back to School: Resources for Return

Last Modified: 11/1/2021 8:47:39 AM