A West Virginia coal county is trying to address its high rates of absenteeism by first addressing the community's high levels of poverty, The Washington Post reports.
McDowell County, the poorest county in the nation's poorest state, is trying to meet the needs of its student population by providing everything from on-site healthcare and counseling professionals (who would otherwise be a two-hour drive away) to lip balm for long bus waits in cold weather.
Other initiatives within the district include a reimagined elementary disciplinary approach where students are sent to an “attitude and behavior” coach, lunch room detention that now includes guided meditation, and using funds from a teacher’s union, tax credits and a capital campaign to develop an $8.5 million multistory mixed-used development that will house teachers.
Because students who struggle with housing and food insecurity are less likely to learn, educators are working with community partners and state leaders to address the underlying barriers keeping students from the classroom. With schools educating a larger percentage of students from low-income backgrounds, more districts are also embracing wraparound services as a means of removing barriers for students who face poverty and serving the "whole child."
Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, partnered with community groups and businesses to provide mental health, nutrition and early childhood education options. The district also operates a community school village seven days a week that includes a community garden, kitchen and medical center.
Los Angeles Unified School District runs a community school that builds relationships with professional partners who work to guide students towards careers they may not have otherwise considered. Many students at the school will be their family’s first high school graduate.
By 2022, Houston Independent School District will launch a 300-staff member whole-child program by 2022 that will serve many of its 209,000 students who face hunger, deportation fears and homelessness. The schools will serve as connecting points for families that need assistance accessing services. Its progress will be tracked through a software platform.
Finding funds for these programs is always challenging, but some state lawmakers recognize the need for help and have a hand in the success of these services. Efforts in West Virginia are benefitting from awareness raised by Gayle Manchin, who served on the state's Board of Education from 2007 to 2015 and is the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin. And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine is proposing an education plan that would provide $550 million over two years for wraparound services through his STRONG Ohio initiative.