Integrating a Whole Child Approach

Districts preparing for summer learning must consider not only academic supports for students most affected by COVID-19, but also the pandemic’s broader impact on young people’s health and wellbeing. Mental health challenges are increasing, with more and more youth reporting feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and anxiety. While schools and learning programs alone cannot solve a mental health crisis, a whole child approach to education can provide students with socialemotional support to increase feelings of belonging, connection, and resilience. Through tiered support systems or strategic partnerships, districts can also identify students in need of additional assistance and link them to school or community resources, such as social workers, counselors, and other mental health practitioners. More broadly, a whole child approach can improve learning outcomes for all students by fostering engagement and excitement, increasing students’ sense of agency, self-direction, and joy in the learning process.  

Guiding Questions

  • What strategies can summer learning programs use to support student health, connection, safety, and engagement? 
  • How can districts ensure equitable academic and social emotional summer learning opportunities for all students?  
Strategies Aligned Resources

Create a positive environment 

RAND’s 2021 summer learning study found that positive school culture has an outsized impact on student outcomes. Summer learning programs that create a welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment are more likely to forge connections with participants, setting them up for both academic and social emotional growth. This includes sending clear messages about the importance of student engagement, good attendance, and constructive instructor/student relationships.  

The National School Climate Center has a checklist of 14 indicators + Add to Action Plan that they assess to determine how a school or district is promoting positive community interactions, respect for diversity, and student safety and physical and mental health. Compare summer learning plans against the checklist and identify opportunities to develop norms and practices for student and community wellbeing.  

Download the Wallace Foundation’s Promoting Participation and Experience + Add to Action Plan tip sheet, which offers suggestions on page 5 for planning, staff training, and observation and feedback designed to create a positive site climate.   

Strengthen Social-Emotional skills 

Socialemotional skills are a critical for student wellbeing, and are tied to greater academic success and positive postsecondary outcomes. To build socialemotional understanding and competency, students need opportunities to apply new skills in safe, supportive environments. While enrichment opportunities can provide avenues for students to practice empathy, self-regulation, conflict resolution, and other capabilities, summer learning programs can integrate SEL and develop the whole child both inside and outside the classroom. 

Check out this article + Add to Action Plan from about how to integrate SEL and academic content into summer learning programs. Suggestions include promoting student voice and choice  for instance, by seeking student input on learning goals or prioritizing project-based learning  as well as using trauma-informed instructional techniques and incorporating SEL objectives for class units.  

Promote equity and belonging 

Ensuring that learning opportunities are available for and oriented to all learners requires districts to understand how students experience barriers due to race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, or other considerations. Whole child approaches invite teachers and staff to consider not only these barriers and how to mitigate them, but also the particular experiences and cultural contexts out of which students learn. By affirming student identities, summer learning programs can not only deepen connections between students and instructors, but also strengthen participants’ understanding of themselves as learners.   

Review the Introduction to Learning Policy Institute’s Summer Learning and Beyond report + Add to Action Plan, which introduces six design principles for promoting equity in summer learning programs. Dive deeper into any of the six principles for an overview, key ideas and practices arising from the principle, and additional resources. Or, see page 16 for case study detailing how district in California is putting the principles into action.  

Visit Turnaround for Children’s Culturally Affirming and Sustaining + Add to Action Plan Practices sub-page and download the Curriculum Audit, which helps educators consider the extent to which curricula and related materials are culturally responsive. The audit includes reflection questions related to cultural knowledge, representation, skills development, and co-creation of learning experiences.