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Building Social Emotional Competencies Through Integrated Student Supports

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for students and families, including experiences of social isolation, economic crisis, stress, and trauma. A May 2020 survey by Echelon Insights found that nearly 30 percent of parents believed their children experienced higher anxiety and more mental health challenges, including depression, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the pandemic has exacerbated the racial and economic inequities that already existed in the education system and forced educators and parents across the country to grapple with an extraordinary set of circumstances to maintain students’ engagement or reengage students in learning. For many families, the combination of these stressors and loss of social connections has made for an even more challenging environment in engaging with school and “normal” life. To address these challenges and support students and families in this moment, it is crucial that all members of our school communities deepen their commitment to developing social and emotional competencies and creating equitable learning environments where all students and adults can process, heal, and thrive. It is imperative that all students develop the social and emotional skills that enable them to become empathic, critical thinkers that thrive in school and beyond, especially when faced with unexpected and significant challenges, such as those caused by the pandemic.

Schools can support students and teachers in developing these critical skills by implementing an integrated student supports (ISS) model, which is a student centered approach to promoting students’ academic success by developing or securing and coordinating services and supports that target academic and non academic barriers to achievement.1 The ISS model creates efficiencies within schools by connecting students and families to the supports they need while allowing teachers to teach and principals to focus on leading the school. Research shows that, when well implemented, this approach can promote the success of individual students.

The Communities In Schools (CIS™) model of integrated student supports is not about doing the work for students. It’s about leveling the field by making sure all students have access to the community resources and tools they need to unlock their potential and thrive.

It starts with our site coordinators—the caring adults who are in schools walking by students’ side to get a deep understanding of the barriers and challenges they face. Across the network, site coordinators build, strengthen, and maintain relationships with students and their families— connecting them to the right community resources and tools, and empowering them to use them, to succeed in school and beyond.

Backed by evidence-based practices, personalized care and a “whatever it takes” approach to integrating resources into school and family life, the CIS model of integrated student supports equips every student to take on and tear down the barriers that stand between them and an equitable path to education.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development and can be particularly powerful within the ISS model when it includes individualized support and a trusting relationship between a student and a site coordinator. SEL includes a wide array of non-academic skills that allow individuals to set goals, manage behavior, build relationships, and process and remember information. Broadly, SEL skills can be organized into three interrelated areas: cognitive, social, and emotional skills. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.