National momentum to support the whole child

At City Connects, we have learned that a combination of supports and opportunities is needed to change children’s lives. And we have an evidence base that shows our model helps students succeed.

Now, our organization is playing a supporting role as part of a national movement for change that is focused on the whole child. Along with partners and coalitions, we are working to grow this movement into a campaign of action that could transform education by improving students’ access to comprehensive services.

This month, for example, we joined over 350 organizations and individuals in support of a White House Office on Children and Youth, which would be dedicated to improving the coordination of federal programs, bringing sustained attention to research and policy, and elevating the wellbeing of children, youth, and their families. We are also engaged in partnerships, coalitions, commissions, and advisory boards. Our goal is to contribute to the momentum for change and share what we are learning: both our knowledge about effective approaches to integrated student support or “wraparound” services, and our evidence that when implemented well, support that addresses the needs of the whole child can transform students’ lives.

City Connects is also part of an advisory group to the Sciences of Learning and Development alliance (SoLD), which uses “insights from the sciences of learning and development…to serve as a resource to connect and support leaders in research, practice, and policy to transform America’s education systems and achieve equity and excellence.”

SoLD and its partners are part of advancing whole child policies and practices that follow up on the Aspen Institute’s 2019 report, “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope,” released by Aspen’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.

As the report notes, “More than two decades of research across a range of disciplines—psychology, social science, brain science—demonstrates that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are deeply linked.”

“Educating the whole student requires rethinking teaching and learning so that academics and students’ social, emotional, and cognitive development are joined not just occasionally, but throughout the day.” 

Or, as we know at City Connects, schools can’t just educate the child who is learning math or history. Schools have to educate the whole child who wakes up in a house with no heat or no breakfast, arrives at school without a coat or with a toothache, takes math and history but may need eyeglasses, and goes home to a parent who may be battling depression or may have lost a job. Schools have to know their students, build positive relationships with them, and ensure they have access to resources and opportunities that provide dignity and hope, key ingredients to a student’s readiness to learn. 

“What the whole child approach at City Connects shows us is how to transform the resources and assets in schools and communities into a powerful engine of opportunity that lifts students over known barriers to learning and lifts them over broken systems that have held back talent and potential for generations,” Joan Wasser Gish says. She’s the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Optimized Student Support, home to City Connects here at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

“We’ve learned that addressing students’ needs across all domains of development,” academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family, “results in good outcomes. City Connects shows us how to provide meaningful opportunities to our next generation. This roadmap for action can help create a new era of educational equity. 

“This roadmap for action can help create
a new era of educational equity.” 

The whole child focus also has the support of national organizations, including the Learning Policy Institute, Turnaround for Children, America’s Promise Alliance, Communities in Schools, The Education Trust, CASEL, City Year, the Coalition for Community Schools, and the Partnership for the Future of Learning. 

COVID-19 has made the need for this work even more urgent. In a recent survey, 61 percent of families with children report experiencing economic distress and food insecurity. Evictions are on the rise, and millions of children are unable to enter their school buildings or early education programs. Families are facing stresses associated with poverty — and a pandemic — that are known to disrupt healthy child development and impede children’s readiness to learn. To cope with these daunting challenges schools will need effective and cost-efficient approaches that meet students wherever they are.

“As policymakers and schools look for ways to build systems of integrated student support, we want them to see that this is possible and that there is knowledge about how to do it,” Wasser Gish says. “We want to support practitioners in doing this work well, and we want to help policymakers do their best to create supportive contexts for successful implementation.” 

We think this national movement can radically improve the education and lives of America’s children. As the country recovers and rebuilds, City Connects wants to be part of the solution, making the case for effectively and affordably supporting the whole child to advance equity and opportunity for all. 

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