Houston Independent School District is launching a whole-child program that will put 300 staff members in place by 2022 to assist many of its 209,000 students who struggle with hunger, homelessness, deportation fears, and other social and emotional concerns, Houston Chronicle reports.
About 110 of the district's schools already have employees in these roles, connecting students who need support with community providers, finding resources for families, and monitoring progress through a software platform.
The initiative mirrors a national trend toward focusing on making sure all of a student's basics needs are met, though its expansion was slowed this spring due to implementation issues, a high turnover rate among the specialists, and pushback from some of the district’s employees.
As more attention is drawn to the need to meet students' social and emotional needs, many schools are evolving into community hubs where they can access mental health care, nutritional programs and medical clinics. A whole-child approach, which takes into consideration the impact food insecurity and access to healthcare have on ability to learn, is seen as producing better test scores, attendance and graduation rates.
Transient lifestyles are also particularly difficult for children, and student homelessness has in recent years reached an all-time high. Among districts seeking to ease this burden is Tacoma Public Schools in Tacoma, Washington, which partnered with the Tacoma Housing Authority to reduce high student mobility by providing low-income families with housing assistance so their children can remain at the same school and have a sense of consistency.
The issue is also one gaining bipartisan support, particularly at the state level. In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is proposing an education plan that would provide $550M over two years for wraparound services supporting the whole child. The money would be spread across districts based on need, leaving those with the highest needs with about $8.9 million in additional funding for mental health, physical health and after-school programs. That figure would bump up to $10.7 million in 2020-21.
The public is also onboard, with health services provided through schools proving to be a popular notion among PDK Poll respondents. The results indicate more than 85% of Americans believe schools should provide mental health services, and 79% think schools should provide general health services.