By AMY REX
Part II – Beyond the Hardware
I just finished listening to the Vermont Public Radio podcast, “Jolted: The Story of a School Shooting that Didn’t Happen.” Initially, I was conflicted about VPR exposing Jack Sawyer’s story and illness in this way. In the end, upon reflection, I did appreciate the co-producers’ purpose; that is to raise awareness of the deep interconnections between school, community and the state as it relates to health, safety, policy and practice. Once again, I am reminded that schools can’t effectively address the diverse and complex needs of children and families in isolation. Our work depends on support from political leaders, healthcare and social service providers, and the community.
Linda Darling-Hammond, a well known education researcher highlights four areas as the focus for safe and healthy schools: environmental design; a social/emotional curriculum; resources and training for staff, and an explicit mission dedicated to social/emotional learning as well as academic. Although I agree, I also believe a fifth element is critical. Within today’s new social order, we must braid the strands of education, extended school day and school year opportunities, healthcare and human services together. Only in this way can we expect to achieve a vision of learning in which all students graduate from high school prepared for success in college, career and in a democratic society.
Ambitious – undoubtedly, but not impossible. It takes a vision and a commitment – not just within the school, but within the community. Then tiny edges, including a new mindset, new conceptions of the future in the school and more importantly, in the community, and a new design of the system both internally and externally.
Although tiny edges have been taking place inside the walls of the MTSD schools, the occurrences are in pockets that are often not coordinated PreK-12 or across whole child needs like learning, nutrition, mental or physical health or after school care. To that end, MTSD is beginning to take steps toward creating and enacting a vision of education that better addresses the whole child.
The Formative Years: PreK-2
As we know, early childhood development has a direct effect on overall engagement and growth and on the student and adult they will become. Investing in a comprehensive program that addresses the needs of the whole child during this period is a priority.
Currently, MTSD is examining its Prek-2 system and beginning the design work to ensure coherence in programming (including an array of health and social services), transitions, family involvement, and community partnerships. A system like this that is an integration of all resources and opportunities that enable the development of the whole child begins with a new organizational structure. A structure that has the ability to break free from isolationism, identify the values and ideas to guide mutually beneficial systems integration, and then has the capacity to implement the strategies necessary to institutionalize a whole child design.