NOTE: 10/18/13 The headline was changed to “Coordinated Learning Supports Arrive for Alabama’s Children”. Originally the headline read “Extra Learning Supports Arrive for Alabama’s Children”. There’s really nothing “extra” about it.
Schools, and the people within them, cannot solve all of the problems that our children face. A network of community providers must be willing to step up and support our children and families, and some families need more support than others. How available those services and supports are to families who need them can make a huge difference in a child’s ability to reach his or her academic potential.
We have all heard stories of teachers feeding students because children arrive at school hungry. How do we expect children to focus on learning while they are hungry? The effects of hunger on learning are well-documented. I spoke with a teacher only a couple of weeks ago who said she now keeps a bag of apples at her desk to feed her high school students. According to No Kid Hungry, nationally,
More than half of teachers (53%) say they purchase food for hungry kids in their classrooms.
One in ten of these teachers buys food every week.
Teachers who buy food for hungry kids in their classrooms spend an average of $26 a month.
What about the student who is chronically absent due to caring for a sick parent or helping with family duties? Not long ago, a teacher shared with me the story of a young 15-year-old mother whose infant, born prematurely, was hospitalized and how difficult it was for the young girl to stay focused in class while worrying about her child. How well can you concentrate when you are worried about a sick family member or child?
These issues directly affect the ability of a student to learn during the school day.
How does a school meet that challenge? By structuring and providing learning supports.
Learning supports break down barriers to learning. Learning supports are the “resources, strategies, and practices that provide physical, social, emotional, and intellectual supports intended to enable all pupils to have an equal opportunity for success at school by addressing barriers to and promoting engagement in learning and teaching“.
The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) recently took a huge step forward to ensure children and families have greater learning support systems available within their schools. Schools and districts have been providing various levels of support on a piecemeal, case-by-case basis.
A Comprehensive System of Learning Supports provides a framework and structure to coordinate multiple activities that break down those barriers in a proactive, organized manner. It is a preventive approach rather than reacting after problems have manifested themselves in chronic absenteeism or disengagement.
The framework is being piloted in ten school districts this school year: Bessemer City, Chickasaw City, Etowah County, Butler County, Decatur City, Perry County, Calhoun County, Dothan City, Shelby County, and Lauderdale County. Districts that were already working to provide these supports and were interested in better organizing their own efforts were chosen for the pilot.
Here’s what the intervention system looks like.
For a more complete understanding of the framework within which this continuum would operate, please take the time to read the full plan. Yes, it’s short on details, but frameworks usually are.
No one can deny that school district budgets are stretched nearly to the breaking point. In order to pilot this framework, Scholastic provided “significant resources” and a “commitment of continued support for the next year” for these ten school systems. The system should be fully rolled out in all of Alabama’s school districts in three to five years. No clear word on whether any additional financial resources will be needed by school districts to implement this framework.
A District Leadership Team will be formed within each school system consisting of the superintendent plus four or five additional people. The District team will meet on a regular basis. In addition, each school will form its own team to identify children in need of additional supports. Little detail beyond that was offered.
ALSDE officials held a press conference on August 2 to herald the concept.
Introducing the plan, Chief of Staff Dr. Craig Pouncey stated it is “a school district’s responsibility to try to do more than just provide instruction that will ensure children’s success.”
“We can remove barriers that prevent children from achieving at their highest potential,” he added.”We cannot ignore children’s issues, and schools must support children in order for them to achieve their highest potential.”
Dr. Linda Felton-Smith, Director of the Office of Learning Supports, said the ALSDE worked on the plan for more than a year. She emphasized that the plan was developed by folks in Alabama, in consultation with UCLA’s Center for Mental Health Dr. Howard Adelman and Dr. Linda Taylor. Page 3 of the PDF lists the names of those who worked on the design document.
Here is the full presentation about the comprehensive system shared with attendees of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA)’s annual meeting (and the source of the two graphics displayed above).
Felton-Smith emphasized the need to address and alleviate problems of homelessness, hunger, and unmet medical needs as these are real barriers to a child’s ability to learn in a classroom. She added that many teachers are not prepared to face these problems in a classroom and providing supports for children will allow teachers to focus on instruction.
Many of you at this point are probably thinking “what about their parents? Don’t they have some responsibility?” Of course. But what happens to the child, who through no fault of his or her own, ends up with a parent who is unable to provide the type of support that child needs to reach his academic potential?
Kyle Kahlloff, superintendent of the second-year-in-existence Chickasaw City School system made it clear that the “days of finger-pointing at homes and parents are over”. Kahlloff emphasized the need to build partnerships with families because the bigger picture of educating children necessarily involves families. [Applause is appropriate at this point.]
Dr. Fred Primm, Bessemer City Schools’ superintendent, said folks in his district take actions to support students on a “case-by-case, incident-by-incident” basis. Primm wanted his district to become more strategic to maximize resources and “help more children”. For Primm, “the pilot program was an answer to a prayer.”
Primm summed it up this way: “If we want [children] to be successful and learn, we have got to address all of their needs. They need to know that we understand and we care. You cannot educate them if they do not believe that you care for them.”
Here’s to caring for children. The framework is a place to start, but as always, the proof will be in the implementation.