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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 02/09/2012

Taking a stand for ‘the whole child’ approach to school reform

This was written by Sean Slade, director of Healthy School Communities, a program of the ASCD, an educational leadership organization.

By Sean Slade

The White House recently launched their We The People initiative that gives Americans a “new way to petition the Obama administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country.” At ASCD, we are taking President Obama up on his offer and are asking people to sign our petition to make “a whole child approach” to education reform a national priority.

The White House has a National Security Council, a Council on Environmental Quality, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Council on Women and Girls, and the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. It’s time for a President’s Council on the Whole Child.

A whole child approach to education enhances learning by addressing each student’s social, emotional, physical, and academic needs through the shared contributions of schools, families, communities, and policymakers. It is a move away from education policy that far too narrowly focuses on student standardized test scores as the key school accountability measure and that has resulted in the narrowing of curriculum as well as rigid teaching and learning environments.

The true measure of student success is much more than a test score, and ensuring that young people achieve in and out of school requires support well beyond effective academic instruction. The demands of the 21st century require a new approach to education to fully prepare our nation’s youth for college, career, and citizenship.

Our last two Vision in Action Award Winners, Price Laboratory School (PLS) in Iowa and Quest Early College High School in Texas, exemplify what we mean. Both of these schools work to ensure that each child is healthy, safe, supported, engaged and challenged, whether it is through foundation of daily physical education for all grades K-12; or the weekly health programs promoting empowerment, fresh and organic foods, as is the case at Price Lab; or yearlong personal wellness plans, and a focus on social/emotional as well as physical health at Quest

Lessons and projects extend outside the classroom walls and into the local community. They are adapted to engage students and reworked to provide for personal learning styles and interest. Advisory groups – or “families” as they are called at Quest – abound and are a crucial part in making each teacher, student and family feel respected. And in both schools all are expected to achieve and are provided the mechanisms to do so. They don’t just set the bar high. They provide the steps and supports to get over that bar.

Both schools have gone beyond just a vision for educating the whole child to actions that result in learners who are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling.

But this ideal should not be found only in the the occasional school. It should be found in all schools.

ASCD therefore asks the Obama administration to establish a President’s Council on the Whole Child to attend to the comprehensive needs of students. Such a council would:

* Comprise educators, community members, state officials, national leaders, and other experts who would provide the president with expert counsel about how to coordinate the education, health, and social service sectors in support of our nation’s youth.

* Seek to reduce silo-ization of purpose and funding across these agencies and services, and promote collaborative efforts towards a common goal. Current federal programs and offices that address education, health, and safety of students too often function in isolation — and sometimes with contrary goals.

* Strategically consolidate and coordinate programs and services for children that have been assembled in an ad hoc fashion over the decades, facilitating greater collaboration among the education, social, health, and safety agencies that support children.

* Highlight the mutual obligation that educators and non-educators alike have for supporting the whole child and improving student achievement.

* Involve and engage community members, organizations and agencies in working together towards a common and commonly desired goal.

. Education — as has been highlighted by the president in his last two State of the Union addresses — is a building block for our country’s future success and has impact on the economy, the environment, and national security.

No one would argue that we need a relevant, personalized and meaningful education system. But we won’t get there with a short-term focus on proficiency in reading and math. Instead we need to address the broad array of factors influencing long-term success required of students after high school graduation.

It is time to put the whole child into focus and to develop systems, processes and policies that promote growth and development.

If you think a child’s worth is more than a test score, sign ASCD’s petition to create a President’s Council on the Whole Child.

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