National Guidelines on Integrated Student Support


From the earliest days of the pandemic, we’ve seen how powerful it is for schools to provide integrated student support.

To share knowledge about this powerful approach, the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children – home to City Connects — has just released the first “National Guidelines for Integrated Student Support,” a joint project of experts in research and evaluation as well as in the practice of integrating comprehensive school- and community-resources for students.

The guidelines are a “first effort to encapsulate evidence-based best practices and define what high quality implementation looks like in the day-to-day functioning of schools.”

“Our hope is that, in your hands, this knowledge will raise the standards of care and opportunity provided to our nation’s children and youth,” the guidelines’ website says.

 The need is glaring.

“Students’ learning and wellbeing are increasingly impacted by the complex challenges of our time,” the report notes, adding:

“More than a third of high school students in the United States experienced poor mental health at least most of the time during the pandemic.”

Fortunately, an increasing number of schools, states, and policymakers are exploring ways to provide integrated support. As the report explains:

“The U.S. Department of Education dedicated $75 million to advancing Full-Service Community Schools, of which integrated student support is a part. At least twenty-four states—red and blue—are at some stage of policymaking to advance the same.”

And this week in Congress, the House’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee has proposed $468 million in funding for Community Schools as well as a first-time-ever $10 million budget line item for integrated student support. 

Increased interest and the possibility of more federal funding make this an ideal time to release the National Guidelines, which can help schools that have already begun this work – and schools that are considering it to be more effective in supporting student well-being and learning.

Specifically, the guidelines point to four lessons that have emerged from integrated student support programs:

Lesson 1: Integration and coordination of comprehensive services is key — both at the level of each individual student and at the level of schools.

Evidence-based approaches to integrating comprehensive student services have a positive impact on both students and their schools. Developmental systems theory helps us to understand that strengthening each student’s development –at home, in schools, and in their surrounding communities–creates improved conditions for healthy development, learning, and thriving. If we know that stress, deprivation, and trauma can disrupt healthy development and learning, then the solution is to provide care, resources, and opportunities that address children’s needs and interests, create a more supportive school environment, and connect and strengthen families and communities in ways that nurture student growth and learning. 

Aggregating information about what students need to learn and develop can inform school-level decision making, so that schools can better identify, understand, and respond to trends. Using this information, schools could decide, for example, to take a wide range of customized actions. Schools could: stage a student play, set up a math program for girls, improve communications with families, change approaches to discipline, partner with a local food pantry, bring in artists who are representatives of students’ cultures, launch an afterschool group for new immigrant students, or take another step that’s specifically designed to support students’ growth and learning.

Lesson 2: Relationships are central to an effective system of integrated student support.

Six core components (outlined below) enable schools to create relationships that matter: between families and school staff, between teachers and colleagues, between teachers and students, between students and students, and between community organizations and children and families. When implemented, these core components weave relationships and resources into a network of support and opportunity.

Relationship-building is crucial in schools. When teachers know that they can turn to a colleague–for consultation about how to better support a student or to share a concern about a student knowing that there will be appropriate follow up – teachers feel more supported in their work. Preliminary research shows that teachers are also more likely to stay in a school that has a system of integrated student support in place.

Lesson 3: Different evidence-based approaches use varied mechanisms to achieve many of the same core functions inside of schools, such as:

 • Lesson 4: When well-implemented, these practices, processes, and structures drive systems improvements, because they: 

The report also explores the six core components of integrated student support systems that “form a coherent and efficient way to get the right resources to the right student at the right time.”

These components are:

Setting the stage: Understanding what you already have, building consensus and trust, and determining a budget

• Structures and staffing: Establishing district- and school-level roles and responsibilities, and designing aligned strategies, structures, and personnel roles to activate a system of integrated student support

• Designing processes by which your students receive supports and enrichment opportunities tailored to their strengths and needs

 School and community resources: Identifying and organizing school- and community-based services and enrichment opportunities to facilitate appropriate and efficient connections to resources

Record keeping and data: Creating a record-keeping solution that fits the resources of your school and generates data to monitor and improve implementation and evaluate impacts, and

Sustainability: Designing for the long-term operational, political, and financial viability of a system of integrated student support 

We hope these guidelines will be read and shared widely to accomplish the goal, as the report says, of ensuring “that all students, in all communities, can receive the resources and opportunities they need and deserve” – both through the pandemic and beyond it.

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