You can have the best books, teachers and learning materials in the world but if students aren’t healthy then those resources aren’t fully used and the intended outcomes may not be fully realized. In the 1990s, many school districts, including New Haven public schools in Connecticut, began thinking harder about this link between health and learning. New Haven began with health based clinics located in schools but also realized that maximizing student engagement involved far more than just physical health services. To better facilitate students learning and achieve a higher level of academic performance, more variables needed to be considered, stemming from physical fitness and nutrition to family support and community involvement.
Approximately 20 years later the need to unify and further direct initiatives that link learning and health was fully recognized as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, a primarily health-focused agency, and the ASCD, a primarily learning focused organization, partnered to integrate their individual initiatives. The result was the launch of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model, or WSCC. The model aims to expand and organize the many factors that influence student success and well-being. WSCC is arranged into ten components which are the focus of this video series. Working with New Haven Schools we learned about how WSCC works and saw it in action. We gained valuable insight into the successes and challenges of using the WSCC model in schools. “Well in New Haven, we’ve thought about, you know, why the Whole Child–the Whole School, Whole Community model was important and and what we’ve realized is, you know, to steal a phrase it takes a village: all these different elements. It’s not just one silver bullet that’s going to solve the achievement gap or urban education issues. The academics become possible when you’ve connected some of the other elements about the whole child, when you’ve brought in the community, when the whole school has a buy into the theme then you really see this sort of magic start to come together.” Let’s take a brief look at how the model works.
The central theme in WSCC is understanding that student health and learning are connected and that success occurs through collaboration among schools, families, and communities. In building the model, the child remains as the central focus, as was presented in the ASCD Whole Child Initiative, with the goal to ensure that students are safe, challenged, supported, engaged, and healthy. In order to accomplish this goal, schools must coordinate policy, process, and practice efforts and adopt a continued focus on improving learning and health as they seek to plan, implement, and evaluate efforts around many evidence-based and interacting components. These ten components are all important and should be considered in tandem when developing initiatives to facilitate students learning, health, and support. The context of each school becomes very important in decisions about prioritizing efforts in the different components.
Schools cannot and should not emphasize all equally, but do need to use good decision-making in looking at the whole picture of the child and school to evaluate outcomes and determine priorities. For example, the three-year strategic plan for one school may prioritize the nutrition environment whereas another may focus on school climate and employee wellness. After incorporating the WSCC model into their school systems and developing initiatives based on the model, many educators have seen promising results. “We’ve seen decreased absenteeism among our students who are being followed by our school social workers; increased improvement in behaviors; and from the teachers we’ve been getting a lot of responses that the students are doing much much better in school with fewer suspensions. “The fresh fruits and vegetables have increased. The amount of produce that we are purchasing year over year is getting larger and larger. I think that’s a positive thing.” “We”ve seen results in employee and student attendance and in turn that’s more instructional time and it’s more time for learning, more time for fun, more time to be healthy.” “So the more we can put programs and resources and support together to address those needs the more we level the playing field across the board and ultimately allow for that education to work.
I think education is one of the great equalizers in the United States but it is still a challenge when there’s other barriers that lead you away from focusing on that education. So the more we can address some of those other barriers and let the education be applied and given with fidelity, these kids will will soar.”.
As found on Youtube