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Perspective | Schools as community partners

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Dec. 12, 2020 episode of Education Matters — “Schools as community partners.”

Schools continue to be the hubs of our communities, even when they are operating on remote or hybrid schedules; and they work to serve the whole child every day. This means that not only do schools’ teachers and administrators strive to ensure students’ academic needs are met, but they also do so much to meet students’ and families’ social, emotional, and physical needs as well.

This has never been more true or as important as now, as many of our families face challenges brought on by the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought to light the many inequities that have long been faced by our most vulnerable citizens and communities, ranging from food insecurity and access to housing, to physical and mental health care, broadband, and educational opportunities. As these inequities are exacerbated by this global pandemic, across our state, educators are engaging in heroic efforts to ensure a growing proportion of our students and families have access to housing, nutrition, and many other basic needs that must be in place before a child can begin the hard work of learning. 

Our school nutrition teams are working tirelessly with our transportation departments, social workers, and educators along with community and faith-based partners to find creative ways to get food to all of our students. The waivers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in working with our NCDA and NC Department of Public Instruction, has supported the ability to meet the needs through waivers. We are recognizing that more families may need help in addressing food insecurity than before the pandemic began, but we are also learning how we may support students in the future so that they are ready and able to learn.

Principals, educators, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and counselors are working together to address the needs of the whole child through relationships and careful attention to social and emotional learning while continuing to foster academic growth. We heard how important the investment in the relationships with students and families are to support each of our students. Efforts to support the whole child lay the foundation to ensure that all of our students can reach their full potential. 

While the pandemic has certainly made us very aware of our students’ needs, including and beyond academics, we must also take what we are learning now and consider how we can continue to grow and advance our support of the whole child. We know a great deal about adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) and other traumas that have a direct impact on a student’s readiness to learn. These are a reality for our students in a pandemic, but were also true before and will be essential to address following COVID-19.

The recommended allocations of the critical student services personnel in our schools do not match our reality today, and we must work together to ensure that our districts and schools have the capacity through the important roles of social workers, counselors, nurses, psychologists, and others that allow us to meet the needs of each student and help them to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.