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Whole Child Policy—Equity for All

Tomorrow is the international day of education. This is the fifth year of celebration originally declared in 2018 and then celebrated by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) starting in 2019. In honor of this, I want to identify some basic whole child strategies that could be adopted everywhere across the globe’s education systems.

Priorities for All Education Systems

It is always hard to generalize across systems of education. But I would argue that equity—defined as the access to a quality education—has become the umbrella under which our global education systems are working to support the success of our K-12 students. The implications of setting our priorities for equity can be further summarized as a whole child approach to include both academic and social emotional growth. The Chan/Zuckerberg initiative on this topic talks about transformation of the education system:  “To do this, the K-12 education system must be transformed by: developing rigorous and inclusive learning experiences where each student feels seen, heard, and valued as part of a community; expanding the definition of student success beyond academics to include both well-being and academic achievement and; centering the voices of Black, Brown, and Indigenous students and their caregivers in decisions about how the education system can help students flourish and thrive.” (Chan/Zuckerberg Initiative, Jan. 2023).

Transformation in School Systems

This transformation is well underway in some systems and only thought about in others. Research recognizes that the home environment, the social emotional state of students and their feeling of being included greatly affect their achievement in schools.

Shifting toward a whole child education has far-reaching implications for the education system. Evidence-based whole child strategies include designing relationship-centered learning environments; developing curriculum, instruction, and assessments for deeper learning; providing integrated student supports; preparing educators for whole child practice; and shifting to a systemic approach to policymaking to support every child. (The Learning Policy Institute, Jan. 2023).

Whole Child Policy Principles

The Learning Policy Institute recommends the following policies to ground this work:

  • “Policy that is grounded in the science of learning and development and supportive of students’ academic, cognitive, social and emotional, and identity development, as well as their mental and physical health and well-being
  • Policy that is made collaboratively, across child-, youth-, and family-serving agencies and institutions, informed by stakeholders, and guided by a shared whole child vision
  • Policy in which all policymakers and stakeholders in child-, youth-, and family-serving systems hold collective responsibility for how policy affects children and youth; this includes education (early childhood to young adulthood), health and human services, juvenile justice, youth development, child welfare, housing/homelessness, and workforce initiatives
  • Policy that creates the enabling conditions for and removes barriers to successful implementation of rich, developmentally appropriate educational experiences within schools, districts, and communities
  • Funding and resources that are distributed efficiently and are equitably based on student need
  • From the state level down to the classroom, policy that uses data for continuous systemic improvement—to detect gaps in resource allocation, assess areas of strength and areas for growth, and inform plans for continuous improvement” . (The Learning Policy Institute, Jan. 2023).

Communities of Practice Example: Boston

Schools, universities, and neighborhoods are part of education communities that can join together to help make this happen are often called communities of practice. Recent examples of this kind of partnership to propel this transformation forward are called By All Means. Currently, there are nine communities that comprise By All Means: Oakland, California; Louisville, Kentucky; the Partnership for Resilience, Chicago Southland and the Partnership for Resilience, Southern Illinois; Boston, Chelsea, and Somerville, Massachusetts; Poughkeepsie, New York; Chattanooga-Hamilton Co., Tennessee; and Providence, Rhode Island.

The City of Boston has joined Harvard Graduate School of Education’s EdRedesign in the By All Means Community of Practice. The design of this collaboration is holistic in its approach by inviting more members of a student’s community into the transformation of their schools.

“Our whole-child, whole-community approach means we must support young people within their homes and neighborhoods, creating partnerships for education, health, and well-being that involve everyone,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. “To further our efforts to enable equitable access to opportunity, high-quality education, and healthy development for every child, the City is thrilled to join EdRedesign’s By All Means Community of Practice.”

Resources for Educational Improvement

The importance of this work is the understanding of how much needs to go into the whole child development goals. We all need to help children grow, thrive, and achieve in our schools.

Founded in 2016, By All Means advances place-based, cross-sector partnerships to ensure the social, emotional, physical, and academic development of all children and youth and to disrupt the correlation between a child’s socioeconomic status and their prospects for upward mobility. By All Means members adopt comprehensive, cradle-to-career models to advance social and economic mobility, particularly in under-resourced communities (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jan. 2023)

Under-resourced communities exist everywhere, even inside of or right next to properly resourced communities. East Boston is less well resourced than west Boston communities such as those around Beacon Hill.

“Our mission in the Boston Public Schools is to focus on the growth and development of the whole child, which means taking a holistic approach to educating students and providing them with the resources, support, and guidance they need to be successful,” said Superintendent Mary Skipper. “By All Means is a coalition that has experience working at all levels of the system and connecting districts across the country who are focused on whole-child education. We look forward to our continued work with EdRedesign and thank them for their support and partnership to help our students grow and thrive” (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jan. 2023).

But the real strength here is that these communities of practice can now look across at other communities for ideas and support. This is the overall point of an international day of education—that we are stronger together, and that we learn better when we are together. The more our systems remain alone, or sit as silos, the less they progress. Perhaps this day can help remind us of the importance of community, practice, and success.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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