Growth and COVID observations relating to our schools

April 30, 2021

Roadwork and school construction have become constants in Sussex County and Delaware’s Cape Region in the past year. Flaggers, detours and delays are more prevalent than police officers these days.

It’s a trend that will continue for at least another year as far as schools go, and many more years as far as roadwork goes, as Delaware's Department of Transportation struggles to get caught up with demands made by rapid population growth.

School construction is underway in Lewes and Milton, and at Cape Henlopen High School. There, work on an addition to handle increased student enrollment is moving ahead at a solid pace. District officials are optimistic that students will be able to start using that additional space when the next school year begins in the fall.

A positive and unplanned consequence of the many detours local drivers have encountered this spring is seeing change and new construction in areas they don't usually travel.

That happened this week for me when I was headed east on Cave Neck Road between Milton and Lewes. A detour sent me south on Sweetbriar Road and brought me squarely in front of Cape Henlopen School District’s new Sussex Consortium building that opened in fall 2020.

On 25 acres of open space, the colorful appearance of the consortium facility serving autistic and other special needs students from all over Sussex County can’t help but impress.

Teachers and autism professionals educate approximately 200 students in the facility, helping them to develop academic and life skills key to becoming successful and fulfilled human beings. Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Cape’s new facility, attended by students from all over Sussex, includes a gymnasium, pool, specialized training classrooms, an apartment setup for teaching living skills, and a store where students can learn about being employees and consumers, and the interaction skills that come with those activities.

The Sussex Consortium campus also includes exploration trails and is less than a mile from the Lewes-Georgetown pedestrian and bicycling trail near Hopkins Dairy Farm. It’s not unusual for parents of children with autism to move to Sussex County so they can take advantage of the excellent teachers, programs and facilities offered by the consortium.

Cape district COVID funding

Students at the consortium and other Cape Henlopen district schools, challenged this school year by pandemic disruptions, will have access to a number of programs funded by millions of dollars of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money.

Stephanie DeMalto, communications  coordinator for the Cape district, said the district has received $6,265,920 from two different rounds of funding.

Priorities for use of that money include updating and acquiring classroom and educational technology for students; hiring additional staff to enhance and perfect the hybrid learning environment forced by the pandemic; addressing learning loss to ensure academic success; creating learning academies for summer learning; updating and performing preventive maintenance on schools’ air-quality equipment to ensure optimum efficiency; purchasing more cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for facilities and bus drivers; and funding for staffing and operational shortages.

Enrollment issues at Del Tech

National reporting has shed light on declining enrollments at community colleges across the land due to the coronavirus pandemic. Not good news for employers seeking to hire more people as the pandemic slows and the economy improves.

Delaware Technical Community College hasn’t dodged the problem. Christine Gillan, vice president for strategic communication and marketing, weighed in on the issue:

“Our enrollment is down roughly 8-9 percent this year college-wide. We polled our students who did not come back, and many of them had childcare or economic issues that prevented them from continuing their education at this time. Some of our students said that they couldn't keep taking classes because they had to supervise their children who were learning from home.”

The unsurprising though no less troubling negative impact of the virus on the economically disadvantaged is one of the many harsh realities visited on our nation by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis recently reported a record 33,656 undergraduate applications for the 2021 fall semester. 


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