2024 RESTART Network - National Network Forum

Actionable Insights from Research and Practice to Support Pandemic Recovery

Attendees from the 2023 RESTART National Network Forum listen to the panelists.
April 23 - 24, 2024

All day
American Institutes for Research - Arlington, VA

In April 2024, the RESTART Network hosted a two-day in-person forum to discuss accelerating student learning, fostering student connectedness,  social emotional learning, and emerging research related to pandemic recovery. The forum brought together researchers, policymakers, leaders, and practitioners from across the country to share their knowledge, perspectives, and experiences. 

The forum featured interactive panels and small-group discussions, with a focus on sharing current strategies for accelerating student learning. To wrap up the forum, a panel of high school students shared their experiences with remote learning and the return to in-person instruction.  

There is a continuing need to address pandemic-related disruptions in student achievement and to identify successful strategies for supporting schools in their recovery efforts. The PreK–12 Research on Education Strategies to Advance Recovery and Turnaround (RESTART) Network is part of a larger set of federally funded grant programs designed to generate and share evidence-based strategies with the goal of accelerating academic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

Learn more about the forum attendees >> 


Session 1: Student Connectedness and the Implications for Accelerated Learning 

Feeling connected at school is important for students’ wellbeing. When students feel that adults and their peers at school care about them, they are more likely to succeed academically, have better attendance, and stay in school longer. This session discussed ways that improving student connectedness can support accelerated learning goals and the strategies that practitioners are using to encourage student connectedness. 

Research presenters: 

  • Julia Strehlow and Annie Rojas, Illinois State Board of Education
  • Bob Balfanz, Johns Hopkins University


  • Liz Kirby, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District
  • David Law, Minnetonka School District
  • Felicia Thomas-Williams, Brentwood West Middle School 

Panel moderator:

  • Susan Therriault, American Institutes for Research


Session 2: Needs of the Field: Small Group Discussions

Participants self-selected into topic-based discussion groups. The discussion topics included: addressing staff turnover, evaluating interventions and strategies from recovery efforts, social and emotional learning, and mental health supports for students and staff.


Session 3: Community Member Perspectives Panel

The education ecosystem extends beyond the classroom and the statehouse. Community-based organizations play a key role in providing resources, creating avenues for family and community engagement, and informing education programs and policies. This session included leaders from community-based organizations who will share their insights and experiences related to pandemic recovery efforts.  



  • Nsombi Lambright, OneVoice Mississippi
  • Ruth Idakula, Dignity in Schools
  • Antonio Travis, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Panel moderator:

  • Alicia Espinoza, American Institutes for Research


Session 4: Supporting Adult Wellbeing for a Thriving Workforce

Supporting adults in schools, and in particular educators, is a crucial component of learning recovery. When educators have what they need to thrive, they are better able to support student success and wellbeing. This session will focus on strategies to support educators, and findings related to educator wellbeing and retention.  

Research presenters: 

  • Jonathan Isler, California Department of Education
  • Sharif El-Mekki, The Center for Black Educator Development (CBED)


  • Lee Ann Wentzel, Ridley School District
  • Sham Bevel, Bayside Middle School
  • Wendy Turner, Educator
  • Tiago Baltazar, Berrien Education Regional Services Agency

Panel moderator: 

  • Sarah Fuller, University of North Carolina


Session 5: Small Group Discussions

These small group discussions brought together attendees based on their roles. These roles included local education agency (LEA) and state education agency (SEA) leaders, national policymakers, and education researchers. Discussions focused on capturing strengths/successes, current areas of challenge, and identifying gaps where research may provide additional insights. 


Session 6: Student Perspectives Panel

Students from Theodore Roosevelt High School discussed their experiences transitioning to high school after spending some of of their middle school years in remote learning. They also shared the factors that supported them, including their friends, caring teachers, and courses, clubs, sports, and after school programs that engaged them. Their answers provided valuable insights into students’ experiences.

Event Materials