Last spring, PS 9 was selected as one of the 10 schools in the Whole Child Network, a three-year, comprehensive school improvement process created by ASCD, the international education leadership association based in Alexandria, Va. The goal of the Whole Child Network is to improve educational outcomes by educating the whole child, taking into account a student’s physical, social and emotional needs as well as his or her academic and intellectual ones.
This whole-child approach to education has long been PS 9′s philosophy, and that’s part of the reason the school was selected to be part of the ASCD program. According to ASCD Whole Child program manager Donna Snyder, PS 9 was selected after a nationwide competitive application process. ASCD was looking for schools that already had some of the same ideals and had the staff and parent committees in place to start implementing them, but that needed and wanted assistance in doing so. PS 9 fit the bill.
On October 12, Snyder met with a small group of PS 9 parents to explain what it meant to be part of the Whole Child Network. “This isn’t a program, it’s a process,” she explained. There isn’t a particular blueprint for improvement that Whole Child uses, though there are clear guidelines. ASCD provides assessment, advice and support, and the school then decides as a community how to implement change.
As part of the network, PS 9 will work with ASCD for three years. During that time, PS 9 will ascertain its strengths and weaknesses and make improvements based on the Whole Child tenets, which state that each child should be “healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.” Participation in this program also includes a $10,000 grant for the 2012-2013 year, to be used to support the implementation of the Whole Child approach to education.
However, the main benefit of participation is the research and support from ASCD. According to Snyder, “Participation in the Whole Child Network gives PS 9 access to ASCD’s staff, as well as on-site consultants, targeted professional development, conferences, and a variety of other resources. Our role here is to advise in the process as the school community implements the programs and initiatives that work for them.”
One of the first obvious results of PS 9’s participation in this network is our Playworks program (see article here). This program aims to make recess safer and more fun for all kids, to increase exercise opportunities, and to help the community with conflict resolution. PS 9 learned of this program through the Whole Child conference this past summer, where a small group of teachers and administrators started doing some assessment and planning for the first year. The consensus was that recess and conflict-resolution in general was an area that needed improvement, so PS 9 used most of its first-year Whole Child grant to work with Playworks, a partner organization of ASCD’s. (The rest of the Playworks fee was paid by the PTO.)
The next thing the PS 9 community will notice about Whole Child is the research process, which will begin shortly. ASCD will bring in outside researchers, who will conduct surveys and create focus groups assessing the school’s strengths and weaknesses. These anonymous surveys will be completed by parents, teachers and students and will ask questions like “How do you feel about school? Do you like school? Is there bullying? What did you eat for lunch yesterday—was it healthy?” Please note that parents will be asked to provide permission for their children to participate and that surveys will only be offered to 2nd-5th graders, since younger children would have difficulty filling out the surveys themselves.
The research will look into 6 critical areas: Family and community engagement, school climate and culture, leadership, curriculum and instruction, professional and staff development, and assessment (like test scores). In addition to the surveys, ASCD staff will be on site from time to time, assessing a variety of facets of school culture, such as curriculum delivery and student engagement. “We encourage all participants to provide open and complete feedback during this process, as this feedback will help us pinpoint areas that work well, and areas needing improvement,” explained Snyder.
After a semester of assessment, parent and staff committees will be formed to decide how to address any issues raised by the research. A select group of PS 9 staff will attend the ASCD annual conference in March, for more intensive planning. Then, next school year, ASCD staff will collaborate with the school to implement a series of sustainable measures to bring PS 9 closer in line with the Whole Child ideals, which are that:
- Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
- Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
- Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
- Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
- Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
Click this link for a more detailed explanation of each of the Whole Child tenets.
“We know that it takes collaboration, coordination, and integration to implement a whole child approach to education in a school,” said Snyder. “We look forward to continuing to support key leaders, team members and other stakeholders in the PS 9 community as they create and implement long-range plans that ensure each child in each classroom at their school is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.”
For more information about PS 9′s participation in the Whole Child Network as well as about our Schoolwide Enrichment Program, please attend the special information session this coming Wednesday, November 14. The session will be held in our “Book Hive” library from noon to 1 pm, directly following the half-day dismissal.