As the pandemic recedes, schools can do more to support students

As this school year came to a close, most students had returned to in-person school. The pandemic had loosened its devastating grip, although its impact on students remains. Now, as the country moves forward, it’s time for schools to provide a 21st century education by providing integrated student support, the wraparound services – like help with food, health, and housing – that allow kids to thrive.

One example of how to provide this support is City Connects, Joan Wasser Gish writes in a new CommonWealth magazine article, “ ‘Wraparound’ services crucial to school reopenings.”

In the article, Wasser Gish — Director of Strategic Initiatives at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects – points out that even before the pandemic, many children faced tough circumstances.

“…52 percent of children were in households with income low enough to be eligible for free or reduced lunch in school. In Massachusetts, child poverty, homelessness, and mental health needs were steadily on the rise. And then COVID-19 hit.”

The resulting devastation was tough for families. But as the country rallies, Wasser Gish explains, there are also opportunities.

“The Biden-Harris administration and Congress are paying attention. The American Rescue Plan increased the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those under age 18,” Wasser Gish writes.

The Child Care Tax Credit is “expected to cut child poverty in half.”

And Massachusetts “has been readying for a moment like this. For years, advocates, educators, researchers, and policymakers have advanced social-emotional learning, trauma informed care, safe and supportive schools, systems of student support, expanded Medicaid reimbursements for schools, and improved access to comprehensive services, mental health care, and extended learning opportunities.”

The pandemic has also given the nation a new understanding of how vulnerable some families are, and how crucial it is to provide support.

“As more children and youth return to in-person school ‘wraparound’ comprehensive services are no longer optional” Wasser Gish writes. “Access to supports and opportunities must become a regular part of how schools operate because they play a pivotal and preventive role in supporting children and youth’s mental health, social-emotional development, and academic learning.”

The evidence-based City Connects model does this work effectively and efficiently by deploying school student support staff to serve as “coordinators” who help children and families address hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and other challenges that make it hard for kids to learn.

“Researchers find that City Connects significantly improves student academic and social-emotional outcomes, especially for low-income, Black, Latinx, and immigrant students,” Wasser Gish notes.

“A recent paper published in Prevention Science by researchers at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education, shows that for every dollar invested in City Connects, and the services and resources to which students and families are connected, there is a return to taxpayers of $3.”

And because City Connects works with community partners like the YMCA and Girls on the Run, the center’s study found that, “on average each child benefitted from an additional $5,400 worth of services from community partners.”

As Wasser Gish concludes:

“There is a transformational shift in our understanding about why and how to more effectively support children and families. This knowledge meets the moment, replete with reasons and resources to take a 21st century approach to student support.”

Please check out the article.

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