Integrated Student Support

Rennie helps launch program to support districts in educating the whole child
For many students, classroom instruction is not enough to ensure success in school and after graduation. For children living in poverty, facing physical or behavioral health challenges, or struggling with academic or social-emotional learning, coming to school ready to learn is not always possible.

Nearly one in five children in the U.S. is living in poverty. That means millions of children and their families are thinking about housing, food, and clothing before they can think about school. Meanwhile, the wealthiest parents spend 6.7 times more money on enrichment activities for their children—such as music lessons, visits to museums, and travel—than the lowest-income parents, putting low-income students at a further disadvantage before they even step inside a classroom.

To give all students the chance for success, we need to find ways to break down barriers to learning. One promising approach known as Integrated Student Support (ISS) focuses on providing the out-of-school resources students need. This can mean tutoring and mentoring, enrichment opportunities, extracurricular activities, and linking students and their families to a broader set of services, like physical and mental health care, family counseling, food banks, or employment assistance.

Programs that link schools and students with these types of resources have shown promise in improving student outcomes. For example, schools working with one such program, City Connects, have seen an increase in student test scores and a decrease in chronic absenteeism, grade retention, and dropout. Because of these long-term benefits studies have found that society sees a $3 - $14 return on investment for every dollar spent on these interventions.

The idea seems straightforward. Throughout the year, students spend approximately 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school. So if we support students’ needs outside the classroom they will have more success in the classroom. But putting systems in place to support students is complex, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

That’s why we are teaming up with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support to help districts design and implement their own systems for integrated support. This month, we launched the Systemic Student Support (S3) Academy, a program that brings together nine districts from across the state to learn about evidence-based approaches to improving outcomes by connecting students to the resources they need to succeed.

By working together, the districts—Arlington, Belchertown, Fall River, Hudson, Nantucket, Nashoba, Shrewsbury, Taunton, and Wachusett—can multiply their ideas, expertise, and resources. During meetings throughout the year, teams will learn practices to help identify and address students’ needs and develop a preliminary plan for advancing a system of integrated student support.

The S3 Academy builds upon a national conversation we co-hosted with the Center for Optimized Student Support last month. On November 13, policy-makers and educators from across the country joined us as panelists for a day-long convening called Building Systems for Academic Success: When Academics Are Not Enough. The public event featured a series of sessions focused on the research behind this approach, school-level implementation, and state-level policy.

The long list of distinguished speakers included Massachusetts Representative Alice Peisch and state legislators from Indiana, Washington, and Nevada. Several researchers from Boston College, Columbia University, and Child Trends provided a look at the science behind ISS and the impact it can have on students. Educators from Salem, Springfield, Boston, and North Carolina helped us understand the need for enhanced student support as well as their experience in implementing ISS programs. Rennie’s Executive Director Chad d’Entremont, Chief Program Officer Juanita Zerda, and Board Member Paul Reville were also featured speakers in the program.

We are excited to build upon this national conversation and the work of the S3 Academy to further promote Integrated Student Support both in policy and in practice. We hope to help move the needle in the direction of a more effective and equitable system for meeting the needs of every student.