New brief: COVID-19 and the importance of comprehensive services

In the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, schools and community partners are mobilizing to help students with resources beyond academics.

“In every community, people are working in emergency conditions to address similar challenges. How do we get children food? How do we ensure everyone has access to technology needed for learning? How do we maintain students’ and families’ relationships with teachers and others who know and care about them? How can we best help our families help their children?” Joan Wasser Gish asks. She is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development’s Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects. 

“By synthesizing answers to these questions and adding the expertise of practitioners to that of policymakers and scientists, we hope to provide information that is useful and actionable,” Wasser Gish adds.

That’s why the Center is releasing a new policy brief.

The brief focuses on key areas of support, including: 

• access to food 

• access to technology 

outreach to high-priority students and families 

• access to health services, and 

• access to virtual social connections, enrichments, and social-emotional supports 

Action in these areas is critical. As Wasser Gish explains: 

“The COVID-19 crisis is sharpening the focus on inequalities that have always been with us, but now they’re in the headlines. Now it is more visible that food, safety, and connection are deeply intertwined with learning and opportunity.” 

These inequities can be addressed, the brief says, through specific actions that can be taken by policymakers as well as school and local leaders.

For example, policymakers can expand access to food, health care, emergency child care, unemployment insurance, and small business loans. They can also address evictions, foreclosures, and domestic violence. 

And by building on the science of child development and on effective practices related to integrated student support, school and local leaders can provide services that are: 

• universal: available to all children 

• customized: to meet students’ varied needs 

• comprehensive: covering academic, health, social/emotional, and family needs, and 

• coordinated: across family, school, and community settings 

“These steps would help to serve children, youth and families in the most effective and efficient way possible during this pandemic,” the brief says. These steps also “lay a foundation for necessary and ongoing supports to address the needs of the ‘whole child’ so that children and youth can be ready to learn and engage in school when the health crisis abates and the economic and social impacts become clear.” 

And Wasser Gish adds: 

“The health, economic, and social impacts of this pandemic are going to be experienced differently by every family. These experiences are going to profoundly shape the lives and educational experiences of children and youth. What we study at the Center — how to effectively address the out-of-school-factors that impact students’ readiness to learn and engage in school — can help to address urgent needs right now and hopefully light a path that leads us forward.”

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