By Catalina Cifuentes, Executive Director of College and Career Readiness, Riverside County Office of Education, California, and GRAD Partnership Advisory Council member
As schools continue to grapple with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the wellbeing of students and educators alike, keeping students on track to graduate prepared for future success can feel nearly impossible. I experience that feeling here in Riverside County, as I know many of my colleagues across the country do. How can we possibly maintain high academic expectations for students while experiencing collective trauma? We can start by embracing student success systems that enable us to listen to and learn from one another.
Student success systems focus on three powerful elements – actionable data, supportive relationships, and shared student-centered mindsets – that inform and drive evidence-based practices designed to meet student needs and help them graduate ready for the future. Many schools are already doing bits and pieces of this, but student success systems bring it all together in a unified and streamlined way. This coordination is important because the pandemic created an intensity of student need that current systems just weren’t designed to meet. Student success systems are designed for the reality that schools are facing now.
In Riverside County, collecting and learning from student data is at the heart of what we do to support the progress and well-being of our students. We are conducting needs assessments through surveys and focus groups to better understand what our students are experiencing, what they need and how that may be affecting their ability to learn. This holistic, actionable data helps us address student needs head-on through practices that occur at multiple levels – from the individual student to the whole school. Given the collective grief of the system, it lets us build from smaller wins/goals. Too often we are creating programs and initiatives for students and families without stopping to ask if this is what they need.
And we’re learning from our educators, too. Sometimes this may be as informal as simply pausing a meeting to ask everyone how they’re feeling and what’s top of mind. We’ve created forums for classroom teachers, administrators, and school counselors to share strategies around how they’re coping with student mental health challenges. And we’re building professional development opportunities to help our educators meet the needs of students who experienced significant learning loss during the pandemic.
In the counseling world, you’ll often hear that the first step of recovering from a crisis is getting back to routine behaviors by taking back control of the things within our control. Coming out of a pandemic with student needs at an all-time high, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Thankfully, student success systems take the guesswork out of student support. They help schools identify patterns in wellbeing and learning needs and then determine the supports and strategies that will have the greatest impact.
To learn more about how student success systems can bolster your students’ wellbeing and learning, in these trying times, sign up for updates on tools, resources, and information from the GRAD Partnership here.
To connect with fellow educators working to better understand and deal with the collective grief of current times look out for upcoming opportunities as part of the GRAD Partnership Community of Practice.