Schools are on the front lines of the nation’s mental health crisis: integrated student support is a key strategy

A new opinion piece for the education website K-12 Dive discusses how schools are doing more to address students’ comprehensive needs in the middle of the pandemic. The article highlights the positive role of evidence-based, integrated student support approaches, including City Connects.

In the article, author Joan Wasser Gish — Director of Systemic Impact at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects — writes that educators have been expecting the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic.

Wasser Gish writes:

“Budget decisions made long before children and youth returned to in-person, full-time school anticipated that children undergoing a year and a half of isolation, deprivation, stress — and in many cases, trauma and grief — would return to school with a range of social, emotional and mental health needs.”

School districts in different cities are taking different approaches.

“Boston Public Schools is putting social workers and family liaisons in every school, and contracting with community-based mental health providers. Metro Nashville Public Schools has tapped 6,000 teachers and administrators to serve as navigators to its students, so each student can be known and connected to resources. New York City Public Schools is expanding community schools that provide a range of services and opportunities to children and families: tutors, dental care, robotics and music lessons, adult education, and connections to social services.”

These efforts are being driven, Wasser Gish says, by three factors:

• “educators are accounting for the impacts of social isolation, disruption and school closures on students” 

• “there is increasing awareness that students’ readiness to learn… is tied directly to their social, emotional and physical wellbeing,” and 

• “ federal funds are infusing local schools with the resources to invest in social workers, afterschool and tutoring programs, technology, food, and student health and mental health”

“Many of these are areas educators have long wanted to prioritize, and now funding makes it possible.”

Questions have arisen about whether schools should do this work. But Wasser Gish points to research that shows how powerful school interventions can be:

BARR Center, for example, has implemented a high school model that uses teacher teams to look at each student holistically and provide a range of academic and comprehensive resources. BARR’s results show higher math and reading scores, improvements to students’ experiences in school, and reduced opportunity gaps for marginalized students.”

And City Connects places coordinators in schools “serving high proportions of low-income students. The coordinators work with teachers, students, and families to develop and deliver personalized plans of school- and community-based resources, relationships, and opportunities for each and every student in a school.”

“When students get this comprehensive approach to support during elementary school, it yields lifelong benefits, including improved academic performance on statewide tests,” Wasser Gish writes. In addition, taxpayers benefit from cost savings.

Integrated student support approaches, like City Connects, that emphasize resources and relationships alongside the traditional “3Rs” of education — reading, writing and arithmetic — are paving the way to a new era. As Wasser Gish explains, “Educators see merit in providing a continuum of support that helps students to build resiliency and engage in learning, evidence-based models demonstrate how it can be done effectively and cost-efficiently, and policymakers are providing the resources to do it.”

During a mental health crisis, integrated student support is key to helping students cope in the short term and thrive over time.

To read more, check out Wasser Gish’s piece.

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