National Governors Association highlights integrated student support

In 2022, “gubernatorial elections were held in 36 states and 3 territories,” according to the National Governors Association. And as these newly elected or reelected governors are being sworn into office in the shadow of the pandemic, many are looking for ways to provide more students with more access to mental health and to wraparound services. 

These governors face obstacles.

Billions of dollars are invested in these services by local, state, and federal governments, “to promote healthy child development and academic progress,” according to a recent policy brief from Boston College’s Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects.

“These resources have the power to be transformative. 

“Too often they are not.”

That’s because a “complicated tangle of programs, services, and resources creates a barrier to children’s wellbeing, learning, and opportunity. Transforming this delivery system is both possible and urgent.”

To help governors and their staff do this transformative work, the National Governors Association held a webinar on community schools and wraparound services, and invited Joan Wasser Gish to talk about integrated student support and the new National Guidelines for Integrated Student Support.

Wasser Gish is the Director of Systemic Impact at the Center for Thriving Children. She was joined by Anna Maier, a Senior Policy Advisor and Researcher at the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), and José Muñoz, the Director of Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership.

“This is really a question of strategy,” Wasser Gish says in the webinar. “And this is the critically important piece for policymakers to understand: How you do this work matters.

“We are learning what constitutes best practices.”

Insights about best practices can be found in the National Guidelines, which grew out of discussions among leading researchers and practitioners from across the nation who were hosted by the Center for Thriving Children. These experts came from a number of organizations including Boston College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, AIR (American Institutes for Research), LPI, Child Trends, the Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR) Center, Communities In Schools, the Office of Community Schools at the New York City Department of Education, and the National Center for Community Schools.

At the heart of the guidelines is a focus on evidence-based approaches that help children thrive. One example is City Connects, which is highlighted for assessing “the strengths and needs” of all students across “all developmental domains: academic, social-emotional-behavioral, physical health and wellbeing, and family.”

City Connects’ goal is “understanding the root cause of a student’s challenges” and seizing “opportunities to build confidence, connection, and a sense of possibility by cultivating student interests and strengths.”

The other key lesson in the guidelines is that all schools can implement integrated student support programs. Whether schools already have extensive student support programs or they are just starting to build them, they can weave in best practices: from focusing on all students to building strong relationships with students and families to collecting and using data to drive student support.

This is especially true for community schools, which are seeing an influx of federal and state funds, and work to provide integrated student support. As Abel McDaniels writes in The Hechinger Report, “we have models and standards that schools can use to systematically assess all students’ individual needs, provide customized services and support and track their impact over time. These standards are based on two decades of rigorous studies and evaluations showing that more methodological approaches to wraparound services do improve outcomes for students. Some community schools already use these guidelines, but many do not. More community school leaders should use these evidence-based models.”

McDaniels has worked in a number of Community Schools in different states and recently served as a Special Assistant in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education.

Putting all this information in the hands of governors and policymakers is essential. They can do a better job of creating the conditions for student success if they have a roadmap for action that calls for the support of best practices, quality implementation, and the resources schools and communities need to generate opportunity.

We’re also excited to keep sharing the Center for Thriving Children’s policy brief on the National Guidelines with policymakers – because, as Joan Wasser Gish says in the National Governors Association webinar, “When this work is done well, you can transform students’ learning and lifelong outcomes.” 

Our thanks to the National Governors Association for hosting the webinar and sharing the importance and powerful potential of integrated student support programs. 

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