S3 Academy: empowering schools to set up their own systems of integrated student support

As students return to in-person learning inside their schools, many are bringing the traumas of the pandemic with them.

Schools can help by providing integrated student support, a whole child approach that meets students’ academic, social-emotional, family, and health needs. To learn how, educators can attend the Systemic Student Support (S3) Academy, an initiative of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The scale of students’ needs is daunting.

As Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) said earlier this month at an event hosted by the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, “Our mental health and our young people’s mental health was a pressing need before the pandemic.” 

“As we all know, for many young people, this past year has been the hardest of their lives.”

Students have endured everything from losing in-person contact with friends to falling into — or falling deeper into — poverty to the loss of loved ones who have died from Covid.

“So much has changed since all students were last in school full-time,” the Rennie Center adds. “Eight million people have slipped into poverty, and 14 percent of households with children are struggling with food insecurity. Meanwhile, mental health-related emergency department visits are up 24 percent for children and 31 percent for adolescents. We will be learning about the impact of COVID-19 on children for years to come. But what we know right now is that they need extra support.”

To help schools respond, the Rennie Center and the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development are inviting schools in Massachusetts to apply to S3 Academy’s next cohort. The academy provides three years of support to teams of educators. 

S3 academy draws on the success and evidence base of City Connects, which is housed at the Center for Optimized Student Support. The City Connects model puts Coordinators into schools to connect students to a customized set of supports. Coordinators conduct whole class reviews to assess the needs and strengths of every student. The coordinators link students to services to meet their needs and to enrichment programs to build on students’ strengths.

Participants who attend the S3 Academy will learn how to develop “a student review process that brings a classroom teacher and a school social worker or guidance counselor together to review each student in under 8 minutes.” Once the reviews are complete, the teams would develop “a support plan for the student that could include anything from reaching out to their family, to connecting them with a mentor, to helping them access services like mental health care.”

The S3 team “offers training through large (currently virtual) group convenings, asynchronous learning materials, and individualized support to help each school tailor best practices to their needs.”

In S3’s current cohort, “participants piloted this approach in at least one classroom. Next year, those schools will aim to provide reviews and plans for 20 percent of their students, and 50 percent the following year.”

Information about applying to the program is posted here.

“As we move through the pandemic, implementing effective practices of integrated student support is essential,” Joan Wasser Gish, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Optimized Student Support, says. “The scale and intensity of needs that students are experiencing call for best practices and for creating opportunities to strengthen schools’ approaches to student support to ensure that every student is connected to the relationships, resources, and opportunities that they need and deserve.” 

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