NGA has been working with six states to improve services and programs that serve the social-emotional and mental health needs of students and school staff.
The NGA Center for Best Practices has engaged six states on technical assistance from its K-12 Education Team and national and state partners, as well as grant support to develop and carry out action plans focused on one or more specific state policy priorities related to students’ comprehensive development during and beyond COVID-19. Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon and Wisconsin have developed strategies for equitably meeting the social-emotional needs of students, families and school staff as we move into the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initiative began as students and their families confronted fear, anxiety, trauma, isolation and stress during COVID-19, as well as growing public concern about economic instability and persistent racial inequities. While school systems have always strived to comprehensively meet the needs of students, the pandemic has highlighted the need for whole child approaches to education grounded in the science of learning and development, including support strategies such as cross-agency state plans, community schools, wraparound services and family, student and community engagement.
Governors have increasingly emphasized and prioritized the importance of addressing the holistic needs of students as schools reopen. This school year also comes with expanded financial resources to support program expansion and the increased demand for mental health services.
Two common themes have emerged from the work of these states as being foundational to improving student, family and school staff well-being: cross-agency collaboration and family engagement. Each state has a unique approach and context for supporting students’ holistic needs:
Arkansas is developing a state plan for addressing the social-emotional and mental and behavioral health needs of students through a comprehensive, multi-agency task force. In June, Arkansas’ Department of Education hosted the Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education (AWARE) Forum to build on their commitment to student and educator well-being and gather input from district leaders, educators and students to inform the forthcoming state plan.
Indiana has restructured their office of Student, School and Family Engagement and is examining the holistic skills that students need to have upon graduation to be ready for college and careers. This office will align their work with the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to best serve Indiana’s students.
Michigan leveraged the Governor’s cross-agency, cross-sector Student Recovery Advisory Council to develop the Blueprint for Comprehensive Student Recovery. Governor Whitmer is leading roundtable discussions with local school districts to discuss their efforts to support students’ social-emotional and mental health needs as they transition back to school buildings and begin their academic recovery work.
North Dakota is integrating social-emotional learning with their workforce readiness campaign, including through the North Dakota Education to Workforce Pathways through SEL Coalition. The Governor’s Office will be working with the Workforce Development Council to align the career-ready skills with the SEL Network’s student well-being efforts. The importance of this work was highlighted at the Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education in June.
Oregon is piloting a Community Care Coordinator model aimed at addressing students’ social, emotional and mental health needs and at liaising between students and families, schools and external systems of care. For the start of the school year, Oregon ran a Care and Connection Campaign with resources for schools to focus on building strong relationships with students as they returned to the classroom.
Wisconsin is emphasizing parent and family engagement and will pilot facilitated conversations to increase understanding of the social-emotional and mental health supports available to students. Student wellness is a priority for the First Lady and Governor and this work will build on a strong foundation set by the Wisconsin School Mental Health Framework.
As students, families and schools continue to navigate the evolving public health situation, it will be vital that students’ social, emotional, and academic development is kept at the center of school systems’ work. The NGA Center for Best Practices looks forward to continuing our support of these six states and others as they improve cross-agency collaboration and family engagement to better serve students and schools.