In one participating Illinois district, the Partnership created school-based access to vision and dental care for students. Among students participating in vision screenings, 60 percent needed and received eye glasses, and among students identified as needing restorative dental care, 85 percent completed the necessary treatment. That district has seen behavior referrals decrease by 72 percent, detentions by 87 percent, suspensions by 79 percent and expulsions by 100 percent. Students also experienced English and math gains across all grades (K–8) during this time.
In California’s Alameda County, the Oakland Unified School District began to implement a community school approach in 2012, which includes health and wellness, expanded learning opportunities, and family engagement. A Stanford report found that students in Oakland’s community schools are more likely to participate in out-of-school programs, which in turn has a positive impact on school attendance. The Alameda County Center for Healthy Schools and Communities, which has invested in more than 23 school-based health centers, has found that the clinics improved students’ access to health care and was associated with improved behavioral health and perceived positive effects on students’ academic outcomes.
We need to take a holistic approach to eliminating the barriers preventing children from coming to school and being attentive when they get there; food security, health, mental health, social support, housing stability, and a sense of safety all contribute to or limit a child’s ability to thrive.
A New Social Compact
But schools can’t solve these problems by themselves. Communities must step forward to create systems of opportunity and support in which teachers, upon identifying a non-school problem in the life of a child, can pick up a telephone and connect with someone in the community who can actually do something about the issue. We need more “connective tissue” between our schools and our family-serving organizations, so family support is not so fragmented, disarrayed, and difficult to access. Service silos don’t work.
What we really need is a new social compact between our communities and our families, one that guarantees all children — and all means all — can expect to receive the supports and opportunities they need to go to school each and every day fully ready to learn. More than half of U.S. students are now economically disadvantaged, many of them living in deep poverty. At the same time, students of color are now a majority of the children in U.S. public schools. These students are disproportionately afflicted by challenges outside of school, and, to date, we haven’t been very successful in educating high proportions of these students to proficiency. It is vital to bear in mind that their success will determine our success as a country, an economy, and a democracy.