Lawmakers would mandate ‘holistic’ education

Lawmakers would mandate ‘holistic’ education

(Calif.) There’s plenty of research to suggest that a more holistic approach to education – that is, looking beyond a pupil’s academic needs to emotional, social and medical conditions as well – would likely lead to greater all-around success for individual students.

One California senator would like the state to fund a new K-12 pilot program that would prove the theory correct by linking special education, mental health and school climate services under one roof.

Another senator just last week introduced separate legislation that would provide funding to expand or develop school health centers, designed to offer either onsite services or referrals to meet students’ comprehensive needs.

“You can have the very best of instruction with the very best of curriculum and the very best of textbooks, but if a child is sitting in class worrying about mom and dad hurting each other when he goes home, or when that child is worried about being attacked on his way to and from school…that child is not going to take full advantage of the instruction that’s going on in school,” explained state Sen. Leland Yee before a recent legislative hearing.

While academic achievement is the primary focus of today’s educational practice and policy, that achievement is impacted by an individual student’s personal circumstances – home environment, socio-economic background and social and emotional needs. Many education advocates believe that teachers, schools and the broader community must partner to ensure that the supports exist to develop a child who is healthy, safe, engaged and challenged.

Yee’s SB 596 would require the California Department of Education to establish a three-year pilot program in four schools where special education, mental health and school climate services are integrated for early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs.

The author said that unaddressed student needs frequently result in more profound behavioral and academic challenges that can necessitate more costly, restrictive interventions.

“Adding to the difficulty in addressing these challenges is the fragmentation of the education and mental health systems designed to serve struggling youth,” he stated in the bill’s analysis. “The school setting presents an important opportunity to identify and respond to the comprehensive needs of youth, reducing barriers to access.”

According to Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, CDE would administer a grant program from which two applicant schools from both northern and southern California would be chosen as pilot campuses.

While the bill initially sought $2.5 million in state funding for the program, it has since been amended so that applicant schools can specify the amount of money they would need to start such a program.

Known as “tiered intervention,” the approach provides struggling students with supports at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their learning, according to an analysis of SB 596. Students may receive intervention supports targeting behavioral, emotional or academic needs from teachers, other personnel or from specialists partnering with the school.

The bill would make numerous requirements of participating schools, including formalized collaboration with local mental health agencies to provide school-based mental health services and targeted interventions.

Similar goals have been expressed in legislation proposed by state Sen. Carol Liu’s (D-La Canada Flintridge). Her SB 1055 would modify an existing grant program to fund school-based family or health care centers that coordinate supports for a broader range of student needs.

The bill, according a legislative staffer, is about “building partnerships as opposed to funding actual services.”

Yee’s bill has sailed through several committee hearings unopposed and now awaits a floor vote in the Assembly. Liu’s bill has yet to be heard in committee.

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