On approaching education through the lens of a student’s comprehensive needs

Our middle school is the receiving school for the only family homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. How do you prioritize eighth grade math standards, when that eighth grader is worried about where they’re sleeping at night? That’s difficult on so many levels for everybody in that equation—for the teacher, the social worker, the principal, for the mom, and for the kid, right? What I appreciate about going back in now is that there is broader education community language around social, emotional wellness, and mental health that makes it possible for that eighth grader to learn their math standards while feeling safe and cared for, and making sure the other pieces of their world are going to be put back together the right way.

We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other. In every one of our centers or schools, with our six-week-old children or our 24-year-olds, we have full-time case managers looking at the comprehensive needs of the child and the family.

We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other.”

One of our families has a student at our middle school, one at our elementary school, and a baby at one of our early education centers. The dad, who was the primary breadwinner, passed away. He was an early COVID-19 death. Mom was struggling, the kids were struggling, and the family was in crisis. But the community was able to circle around them, even at a distance, to make sure they had Chromebooks, hotspots, and regular food.

Fast forward to now, a year later, and those kids are thriving and doing as well as possible. It was a year of pain, but what an incredible spotlight on what you can do if you think about a child or a youth in the context of their family. What is everything that amounts to success and possibility for them? It’s education. It’s the wraparound service. It’s community love and strength.