The Brewer School District used a large portion of its American Rescue Plan funds to update Brewer High School's physical structure last summer, replacing windows and improving its HVAC system. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor-area school districts have hired tutors, social workers and nurses as they make headway in spending more of the millions of dollars they’re receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress last year.

Some are also undertaking major building projects, such as an eight-classroom addition at Hampden Academy.

They’re among the variety of initiatives schools across Maine are pursuing as they decide how to spend some of the $370 million they’re in line to receive from the American Rescue Plan.

Some schools have hired extra tutors and started programs aimed at assisting students who have fallen behind or who have struggled academically since returning to full-time in-person instruction this school year, following a year in which many districts used a hybrid model.

After spending some of its $2.7 million award on a new HVAC system at the high school, the Brewer School Department started a tutoring center to help students on assignments between classes, Superintendent Gregg Palmer said.

“It’s astounding how much work has gone in there for this brand new program,” Palmer said. The new tutoring program, he said, is modeled after a previous program he built with “spit and glue” as a principal at another school.  

A former math teacher now heads Brewer High’s tutoring center along with an adult tutor. There’s also a virtual tutoring component.

“A student can set up an appointment with a geometry tutor at 10:30 on a Thursday and it’ll be live and online,” Palmer said. Students can also train as tutors to assist their peers.

Brewer also hired an additional social worker with its COVID funds, which “gave us an immediate running start without impacting our budget,” Palmer said. He plans to add that position as a permanent addition to the school budget after federal funding runs out in 2024.

“Kids have suffered through the pandemic and we want to make sure we’re giving them all the support we can give them,” Palmer said.

The Bangor School Department also spent some of its $13 million federal relief award on building updates like new air ventilation systems, said Assistant Superintendent Kathy Harris-Smedburg.

The department also established a mentoring program with more than 520 students and adults volunteering their time to advise younger children, Harris-Smedburg said.

“It’s been very successful,” she said. Mentors take on a variety of roles, from providing encouragement and guidance to helping younger students make the transition from middle to high school.

Bangor has also hired nurses, academic tutors and a graduation coach to help 12th graders stay on track to graduate.

Hermon has hired academic “interventionists” for its middle and high schoolers using some of the $1.1 million it received from the American Rescue Plan, following through on Superintendent Jim Chasse’s remarks last August about hiring additional staff to help students who had fallen behind academically during the pandemic.

Those educators are in charge of tutoring kids who are struggling or have fallen behind in subjects during the pandemic, designing a range of programs such as study halls before and after school or between classes for students to catch up on work, Chasse said. The district has also hired an elementary school interventionist through a state program aimed at increasing disadvantaged students’ literacy scores.

Hermon is looking into continuing that program into the next year, Chasse said.

The school department has also spent some of the federal COVID relief money on instructional technology and additional health services, like a nurse who handles the department’s pooled COVID testing program, he said.

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.