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Meeting the Whole Needs of the Child and School

Linda Yaron

On a recent fieldtrip, I asked students to gather around close "like one big family" so they could hear my instructions. "We are a family," my student Steve responded. Family is the overarching, transformative vehicle that enables schools in communities of poverty to succeed. Thus, in order for such a future school to be successful, it would need to systematically become a unit of an alternate family and address issues students face in and out of the classroom to meet the whole needs of the child.

Though graduation rates hover at 75 percent nationwide, and 50 percent in communities of poverty, pockets of amazing change have systematically and repeatedly transformed these numbers into ones of hope and opportunity. The question at this point isn't if it's possible, it's how to proactively replicate, scale up, and scale out sustainably in the current education climate. It isn't about working harder—it's about working smarter, differently, strategically, and systemically. Successful teaching and learning in communities of poverty needs to transcend academic focus and purposefully build capacity in the following four vehicles to increase academic success:

  1. Visionary Leadership is necessary to lead the transformation. It is essential to build capacity in principals and teacher leaders to work together to enact purposeful change. This most likely includes redistributing time for teacher leadership positions in hybrid roles.
  2. Community Schools in the Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, Cincinnati Public Schools, and across the country strategically and sustainably realign community support resources at the school site with a resource coordinator.
  3. Foundational Elements of Success, including purpose, resilience, adaptability, relationships, and resourcefulness, are necessary for students to succeed. The more we can embed them in school culture and classroom curriculum, the more students will learn these characteristics. Just as the military engages in resilience training, it is necessary for schools to equip students with tools to build a trained mindset.
  4. Involving all Stakeholders in the solution is necessary to enact change. Above all, everyone (educators, students, families, community members, businesses, everyone) needs to be part of the solution. Every kid is our kid, and the universal bottom line for children is that they need to feel loved, safe, and part of a family community.

Reform efforts will be most successful as part of a sustainable, systemic solution that addresses the whole needs of a child and school. We need to structure spaces for schools to be alternate families that equip students with academic, as well as emotional and motivational, supports. The challenge is to do so sustainably, in the currently climate, as part of a larger reform effort that includes examination of teacher recruitment, training, support, and resources to create the conditions for success.

Linda Yaron is an English teacher in an inner-city high school in Los Angeles. She holds National Board certification and served as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.

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