School is much more than a place for learning about academic subjects such as math, science and history. Lately, you’ve likely heard a thing or two about supporting the “whole child.” A report from the Learning Policy Institute explains the idea, citing nationwide interest in shifting to this educational approach.
Here’s a summary of what supporting the whole child means. Basically, it calls for schools to also act as a welcoming environment where students are supported academically, socially and emotionally. The Learning Policy Institute report builds on the importance of support, linking access to academic, health and social resources with the ability to address learning barriers.
For a whole child approach to work, districts need to become more involved with families and communities – dedicating time to building relationships beyond academics. This includes providing information about community resources with students and their families.
A collaborative approach
To provide the right community resources, district leaders need to be deeply familiar with local neighborhoods. Without a good sense of the opportunities and challenges facing communities, it’s impossible to know what students and their families actually need.
Research from the National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement (NCPFCE) solidifies the value of supporting families, finding that when parents or guardians feel supported by their child’s school, they experience less stress and are more compelled to be involved with the school. To us, that’s reason enough to start establishing those relationships today.
“When our families, staff and community join together to support our students, there’s no better partnership,” said Yelitza Peña, Director of Community Relations at Franklin-McKinley School District in California. “We actively partner with stakeholders to ensure that students and parents have access to relevant and current community resources.”
Another critical part of providing access to community resources is making sure that families are aware of opportunities from the get-go. For many districts, a multi-channel approach is most effective.
“Our district sends email and calls through our notification system, and we also try to share different community events on social media,” said Shawna Currie, Director of Communications at Victoria Independent School District in Texas. “We’ve found that local groups will often return the favor, and seek out ways to support school initiatives.”
An NEA policy brief states that effective and reliable two-way communication channels between parents and school staff is important, and it’s also something that Currie’s district is actively doing.
“Our entire district uses Peachjar to send digital flyers with information about events, extracurriculars and community resources.”
Communicating at the school and district level
“Communication is constantly happening at the school level. As an example, our middle schools regularly share info about student clubs or athletics,” Peña explained. “With parents, we’ve found that using tools like Peachjar to share updates digitally is a good way to share different community resources and extracurriculars.”
An article in ASCD Express discusses the importance of leveraging technology to increase transparency in the parent-school communication loop. Using tech is a valuable way to peek into students’ academic progress, and an equally important tool for connecting with parents.
“Our district has one of the highest English language learner populations in our county, so it’s imperative that any communications we send are understandable to all of our families,” said Renee Delport, Communications Officer at Kings Canyon Unified School District in California.
Delport also highlights the role that communication plays in closing the achievement gap. “Our district has shown consistent, positive change in test scores over the past five years, and we even surpassed the state average this year – I believe that parent engagement is one critical reason for this success.”
Schools are busy places, and staff may not always have the time to craft intricate communication strategies. Delport has streamlined the process to make things easier for her district’s schools.
“Though my primary role isn’t to connect directly with students, I do support our schools in the delivery of information that could be for students, or their families,” Delport said. “When it comes to districtwide events, I create individual marketing plans and provide them to each of our school sites to use as a guide to distributing information – this way, they don’t feel pressured to come up with a strategy on their own.”
Student situations will always be unique and require different kinds of support. It’s important that educators remain diligent in getting to know their students and their families, and proactive in offering information that could be helpful.
“It’s important to utilize as many avenues as possible when communicating with families and to be in-the-know of both local and national resources that may be helpful – I’m currently working on compiling a full list of community groups to partner with to better support our district,” Currie said.
Truly supporting the whole child requires more than making sure a student is passing state assessments. Currie said that in her district, all community resources deemed valuable is shared with families.
“We’re always providing new information, making sure that families know about support such as tutoring opportunities and useful online resources,” Currie explained. “We also have a liaison who specifically supports displaced or homeless students, and works directly with families to make sure that they have what they need. Whenever we know of something we try to push that out to our families and make sure that they are aware of those opportunities.”
Offering support builds community
When students and their families feel like they belong, it becomes easier to build relationships and reinforce a district’s mission and values.
Peña shared insight into her district’s dedication to living out their core values. “Our district values are a constant reminder that our values and mission drive how we work with families and students, whether it’s in how we communicate, deliver instruction or how we make funding decisions. We’re here to partner with our families to provide the highest quality of education that we can to our students.”
We believe in the importance of tapping into the power of communities to elevate student outcomes. We’re incredibly thankful for the district communication officers that commit themselves to ensuring that students, families and faculty are connected and set up for success.