Melissa Mellor

Whole Child Approach Gaining Momentum Among Federal Lawmakers

"Children who are hurting, hungry, scared, and disengaged cannot learn. We must recognize and address these needs if we are to have any hope of educating all students to proficiency in all academic subjects," said Clare Struck, guidance counselor at Price Laboratory School (PLS) in Cedar Falls, Iowa, during her testimony at a Senate hearing last month. In March, PLS was awarded the first-ever Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award.

The event was part of a series of Senate hearings focused on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and it specifically addressed meeting the needs of the whole child. Struck was joined by a number of other expert panelists, including Geoffrey Canada, head of the Harlem Children's Zone, and Karen Pittman of the Forum for Youth Investment. Panelists shared short testimonies and spent the majority of the two-hour hearing answering questions from members of Congress about how to increase parent involvement, how to engage students, ensuring return on investment, and more. But perhaps the most significant question of the hearing focused on capacity to support the whole child.

"If you’re going to add all this stuff on, doesn’t this require more personnel?" asked Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). "As you add all this stuff on, you’re going to have to add more people, mentors, librarians. … How do we do that?"

The panelists responded by emphasizing that learning doesn't happen only in schools. In order to successfully educate the whole child, it's critical to map out existing community resources, including the programs and services provided by faith-based organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and recreation centers. Then, communities and schools need to intentionally fit all these pieces together into a cohesive and coordinated menu of offerings that ensure each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

An Education Week article about the hearing suggests that efforts to address whole child needs could be built into ESEA renewal. Here at the Whole Child Blog, we're encouraged by federal lawmakers' recognition of the benefits of a whole child education and their willingness to ask difficult questions about meeting whole child needs. But we need to continually remind members of Congress that we must make educating the whole child a national priority. Help us keep the momentum going, and send a letter to your members of Congress today.

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