Growing national action on expanding integrated student support

We know that getting students the right supports and opportunities at the right time helps them to do better in school.

That’s the core of City Connects’ model of providing integrated student support (ISS). 

The challenge is scaling this approach so it can reach more children, work that’s being done by the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. The center is home to City Connects.

In April, the Center for Optimized Student Support worked with the Center for Promise, part of the Boston University Wheelock College of Education, to release a policy brief — “Building Systems of Integrated Student Support A Policy Brief for Local and State Leaders” – that offers guidance to policymakers.

The brief points to “a wide range of activities to address the complex and changing needs of children, youth, and families,” including the work that hundreds of schools do to provide “wraparound” services, have a “collective impact,” and fund community schools and “Promise Neighborhoods.” 

In addition, the brief explains, “National networks like Strive Together and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, and interventions like City Connects, Communities In Schools, Say Yes to Education, and Bright Futures are responding, in widely varying ways, to a rising tide of need among children and families.” 

Since the brief’s release, there have been more major, national developments. 

In the media, Paul Reville, a Harvard professor of education and a former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, wrote an article for the Hechinger Report that asks, “How might we shift to a personalized system that meets children where they are and gives them what they need, inside and outside of school, to thrive and succeed?” His answer is to develop “Success Plans,” “customized menus of opportunities and supports.” As an example, Reville points to City Connects.

On the research front, Stanford University Professor Sean Reardon has highlighted the way that poverty limits students’ academic performance. 

“When we look at average test scores in a community, a school district or a school, what we’re measuring is really the amount of educational opportunity provided in those communities – not the average ability,” Reardon says. “Average ability doesn’t vary from one place to another, but opportunity does.” 

To address this, Reardon has created the Educational Opportunity Project, an initiative to identify and address inequities. The project pinpoints “where disparities exist, where they’re getting worse or better and the factors that correlate with local trends” in an effort to “bring both researchers and community members closer to understanding how to create more equitable learning opportunities, in and out of school,” a Stanford press release says. 

Reardon adds, “we can get to a place where we can start to have targeted social and educational policy solutions that will really make a difference.”

“Reardon and Reville are both pointing to the fact that we are at a unique moment in time,” says Joan Wasser Gish, the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Center for Optimized Student Support. “Insights from the sciences, from practitioners, and from communities have created a roadmap for action. Our center helps to translate these insights into policy and practice at scale so that all students can access the relationships, services, and opportunities they need to learn and thrive. We are seeing exciting advances across the country.”

Among these advances is work being done in Ohio. In May, Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted visited Chaminade Julienne, a City Connects school in Dayton, to talk about and share the importance of helping students succeed. In August, Governor Mike DeWine and the Ohio Legislature invested $675 million in student health and wellness programs. School districts have the flexibility to use these funds to meet local needs by adding, for example, mental and physical health services, professional development programs on providing trauma-informed care, or mentoring and family engagement programs. Schools can also use the funds to implement City Connects.

In Massachusetts, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in partnership with the Center for Optimized Student Support and the Rennie Center, have launched the second year of the Systemic Student Support (S3) Academy, which helps participants develop plans for implementing systems of integrated student support. 

“…Massachusetts districts participating in the S3 Academy are on the forefront of a growing national movement to more effectively integrate comprehensive resources for students,” Wasser Gish writes in a Rennie Center blog post. “Across the country, policies designed to institutionalize effective student support practices are gaining momentum. At least eight states are advancing policies aimed at supporting effective practices for integrated student support.” 

In July, Wasser Gish also gave a presentation on integrated student support at a National Governors Association meeting on Child Health, Wellbeing, and Safety that was held in Minneapolis, Minn.

All this national action is exciting because as the evidence base grows and awareness spreads, integrated student support programs promise to pave a path that can help many more students achieve lifelong success.

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