We are living in uncertain times. Families and communities across our country—and around the world—are continuing to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has disrupted day-to-day life in profound ways, and its effects will be long-lasting, fundamentally reshaping health care, economic, social, and education systems for the foreseeable future.
At America Forward, we know that our education system will need to adapt in unprecedented ways to meet the challenges created by COVID-19. Right now, more than 50 million students across the country lack access to physical school buildings. Efforts to expand distance learning and find other creative solutions for students and families are hampered by inequitable access to technology and deep disparities that existed long before the onset of this crisis—like food, housing, and economic insecurities. Such massive disruption, coupled with family health crises, economic hardship, and exposure to trauma, will result in significant learning loss for many children while they remain away from the classroom. Families, educators, and school leaders face enormous challenges as they work to support students now, and as they plan to reopen schools once it is safe for students, educators, and staff to return.
In this moment of tragedy, uncertainty, and change, it’s more important than ever to uplift whole-learner approaches to education that embrace a holistic view of learning and development for every child. It is vital that we advance innovative, evidence-based approaches not only to address academic learning loss, but also to support the continued development of social, emotional, creative, cognitive, and physical skills that all young people need to thrive in this deeply challenging world.
Created through a collaboration among America Forward Coalition organizations, experts and practitioners in the field of whole-child approaches to learning, and education advocates in communities around the country—and with generous support from, and in partnership with, the LEGO Foundation—we are pleased to introduce Whole-Learner Education: A Policy Roadmap to Student Success. This report offers key federal policy recommendations to support the development and adoption of high-quality whole-learner approaches in schools across the country. As the report details, we are in urgent need of public policies that:
- Provide vital funding support for educational approaches that focus on the development of the breadth of skills—social, emotional, creative, cognitive, and physical—that young people need, to both weather this crisis and succeed in tomorrow’s world;
- Give educators the tools—including through the effective use of accessible technology—to advance whole-learner approaches while children remain home from school, and to meaningfully engage parents and caregivers to reinforce whole-learner approaches during this crisis and beyond; and
- Leverage high-quality partners in communities across the country to provide expertise, resources, and capacity to support educators, parents, and caregivers working to provide whole-learner approaches in these uncertain times.
Where there is uncertainty, there is fear. But there is also opportunity. The current public health and economic crisis has laid bare long-existing disparities and inequities facing far too many of our students. It has also highlighted the need for approaches that—along with safe environments and strong, positive relationships—offer a new framework for the kind of customized, engaging, meaningful learning experiences that effectively foster a breadth of skills development for every student, especially those facing entrenched barriers to success. And it has made clear that in the face of unprecedented disruption, we need to scale innovative, effective, and high-quality whole-learner approaches that provide all children with what they need to thrive.
It is our hope that we will emerge from this challenge with a renewed commitment to all our nation’s children grounded in equity. Whole-Learner Education: A Policy Roadmap to Student Success outlines how we can help students, educators, and families meet the challenges of the current crisis, and provides recommendations for how we can carry whole-learner approaches forward to ensure that every child has the best chance to succeed in this rapidly changing world. Please join us.
Deborah S. Smolover
Managing Partner, New Profit
Executive Director, America Forward