Recently I arrived at a local café to retrieve my carryout dinner, and the clerk inquired, “Oh, do you have an RPU?”

I have resigned myself to the no-time-to-spell-it-out texting culture and the alphabet soup it has inflicted on those of us not cool enough to be in the know, but that was new one to me.

Seeing my confusion, she took pity on me and offered a translation: “Rapid Pick Up.”

The exchange got me thinking about all the initialisms and acronyms that have proliferated in recent years. Good friends are now BFFs; people no longer laugh—they LOL or if it’s really funny, ROTFL.

One of the main proponents (or offenders) in this practice is the world of education, which has a long track record of creating these short cuts

For instance: On the California Department of Education website, a database of “common acronyms and initialisms” listed on the website boasts more than 340 items.

Initials often cause more confusion than enlightenment. Does ADA refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or Average Daily Attendance? In California, USC means one thing; in South Carolina, it refers to something else.

The Covid-19 pandemic has spawned plenty of opportunities for education acronym advocates. The first round of federal Covid relief for schools was the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Easy to remember, but a little bit cutesy. Congress authorized a second round of aid with CRRSA—The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Lots of financial help for schools, but not much work put into the initialism—too many letters, immediately forgettable.

The third allocation of Covid Aid provided more than twice as much funding as the other rounds combined and arrived with the grandiose name American Rescue Plan. But the acronym it generated, ARP, didn’t reflect the ambitious nature of the legislation (and, besides, it was a name already claimed, as crossword puzzle fans know, by a famous sculptor.)

So a better acronym—ESSER—rose to prominence to cover all three rounds. It’s pronounceable and easier to say than the long version, The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund. And because it benefits nearly every school system in the United States, it’s sure to be remembered by those to whom it’s most meaningful—school district administrators.

ICYMI, there are other Covid relief initialisms—HEER (Higher Education Emergency Relief); GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief); and EANS (Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools).

But don’t worry if you come upon a new assortment of letters you don’t recognize: IYKYK.

Enter Educational Interiors Showcase 2024

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