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What will it take to place relationships at the center of schools

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A recently released report from the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development provides a roadmap for putting relationships at the center of education. While the concept is widely accepted, the question is: Do we have the will to make a relationships-first approach real in every school across the country?

This approach is important for every student, and it is especially urgent for students facing the most adversity and instability. Brain science on childhood trauma increasingly shows that these experiences take away from learning and memory and can most effectively be addressed through positive relationships.

{mosads}The solutions to take this from concept to reality range from reducing student-to-teacher ratios to providing help for professionals inside schools, such as school counselors and nurses. But first, we must expand our notion of what it means to keep students safe, and this must include relationships with caring adults. We have no time for the false choices of placing blame on home or school, or choosing between relationships and academic rigor. In order to meet the needs of today’s students and for America to thrive, we must do all of the above.

A study found that in the 2015-16 school year the number of law enforcement officers in schools outnumbered school counselors, and 10 million students reported attending a school with an officer but not a counselor.

Critics often fear that we are asking schools to do too much, and we agree. Which is why we believe in expanding upon the many examples of innovative non-profit and school partnerships that empower schools to address the complete needs of students so they are present, ready to learn, and able to thrive and strive. These partnerships provide individual attention for students, referral services, and a necessary web of support. The mentoring and education fields have joined forces to elevate what we know works and implement best practices.

Public policy is part of this solution. To that end, we have introduced bills in Congress that elevate the effective use of personalized supports for students through a trained and caring mentor. The Transition to Success Mentoring Act zeroes in on that critical and vulnerable period between middle and high school by providing schools with the funding they need to implement school-based mentoring programs. The bill would allow local schools – on their own or through a partnership with a nonprofit community-based organization – to pair at-risk students with a qualified mentor to help them navigate the transition from middle to high school and address academic, social, and emotional challenges along the way. 

The bipartisan Chronic Absenteeism Reduction Act allows school districts to implement proven programs aimed at increasing attendance for students who are chronically absent. This legislation calls for efforts to connect students with school-based mentors and caring adults from their community. And it allows school districts to improve their attendance tracking systems so that they can share data with students, families, teachers, and principals and initiate immediate interventions. Techniques such as alerting parents about their child’s missed assignments have been shown to increase attendance by 17 percent.

These simple interventions allow schools to take a community-based approach to address health, transportation and other necessary supports for young people. Case in point: Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act plans have been approved, we know that Indiana, Ohio and over 30 other states are tracking chronic absence as an accountability metric for their schools.

In order for young people to fully show up, we need to show up for them. With individual actions and systemic policy shifts, we can create collective change and widespread innovative shifts. We cannot leave critical connections for young people to chance. Relationships must be at the center.

Representative Tim Ryan represents Ohio’s 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Representative André Carson represents Indiana’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. David Shapiro is CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. 

Tags Mentorships School counselor Tim Ryan Youth mentoring

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