Whole Child Approach
Schools that support the “whole child” pay attention to all aspects of learning and development — academic, social, cultural, familial, health, emotional, and financial — and the impact of each aspect. Schools providing developmentally appropriate, whole-child support adjust the level of challenge and intervention to students’ age, grade level, and maturity to promote growth in each domain.
Addressing students’ academic, social, and emotional needs
Comprehensive support systems “address the full array of student academic, social, and emotional needs” (MCNC Student Support website). The MCNC Mindmap provides a great overview of the different areas covered through wrap-around support.
The secondary-postsecondary partnerships in the Woodrow Wilson Early College Network promote rigor, relevance, and relationships in the service of a holistic development of college readiness. Student support is closely connected to assessment of academic, emotional, and social development (The Woodrow Wilson Early College Network, 2008). The Woodrow Wilson Early College Network directs early college partnerships to support the social and emotional aspects of students’ college preparation through individual and group counseling, mentoring, advising, and advocacy. Early college partnerships also are guided to adopt a developmental approach to college course delivery. This includes dual enrollment or AP courses in the high school format, cohort college courses in the college format, and/or college course enrollment alongside undergraduates (The Woodrow Wilson Early College Network, 2008).
Scaffolding developmentally appropriate supports
According to CAL Prep’s principal, the first step to implementing a developmentally appropriate approach to student support is to define your school’s goal. She says a positive, forward focused goal helps students understand and buy into the school and the mission.” At CAL Prep, that goal — and the school’s motto — is “College for Certain.”
To implement a successful developmental approach to this college-going goal, CAL Prep “needed to be sure that we could get students to achieve in our high school environment. This led us to provide supports that ensured students achieved high school success” throughout their four years. To that end, CAL Prep scaffolded developmentally appropriate supports that spanned the course of students’ high school path — all the way into their postsecondary trajectories.
At East Palo Alto Academy High School (EPAAHS), teachers target the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children by matching rigorous curriculum goals with relevant supports. The school’s whole-child approach to learning is embodied in its focus on five “habits of mind.” The habits, drawn from the work of Deborah Meier and the Coalition of Essential Schools, guide curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student support.
East Palo Alto Academy High School
Habits of Mind
EPAAHS uses student exhibitions as a key strategy to integrate learning across the habits. These exhibitions provide focus for school instruction and help to create a school culture focused on achievement and rigor. Because each student is required to prepare and complete an exhibition each year, there is a pervasive and powerful impact on both student and school. It is striking how many students reported that exhibitions — a project that takes months to complete — positively impacted their academic and social development.
For example, one student stated:
A lot of things that EPAAHS helped us with were presentations and showing our work to the community… For any job you have, you have to show yourself well. They taught us responsibility and that is important for any job.
A second student reported:
Exhibitions really prepared each student for exactly what they needed in the future… My reading got much better than it was before. My writing: my essays are better, more detailed. In the science class we were dealing with real stuff — more exciting stuff.
With the goal of producing a high-quality final product, the exhibitions are long-term, multi-faceted projects with extensive opportunities for revision. Through the project, students learn to accept revision as a normal part of the process, rather than feeling like they have failed if they do not reach a high standard on their first attempt. Students learn that they just have more work to do to reach the goal. They also learn that they need to persevere and be resilient in order to succeed (Frelow, 2007b).
Tools and resources
- The Student Supports Mindmap by the Middle College National Consortium provides a comprehensive and organized list of supports for students served in early college schools.
- In CAL Prep’s Student and Family Support and Resources Guide, available student supports are defined by the type of learning or youth development issue they address.
- The five habits of mind that guide the educational program at East Palo Alto Academy High School, including exhibitions, are described in Building Student Efficacy Through Trust, High Expectations, and Extensive Support by Fred Frelow.
- The December 2008 issue of the Woodrow Wilson Early College Network’s e-newsletter, Data & Dialogue, emphasized a whole child approach to student support. The first article, The Early College Difference: Multiple Dimensions of Student Support, describes this approach in detail.
- To what extent are the supports at your school developmentally appropriate? Focused on “whole” student development (beyond just academic skills)?
- In general, do staff at your school focus on student capacities over deficiencies? Are supports structured in a way that reflect a focus on positive development? How can this be increased?
- Does your school scaffold supports over the course of students’ high school path? Into their postsecondary trajectory?
“Schools need to embrace the broader goal of promoting positive development for all students, which includes academic and bio-psycho-social development, and will in turn enhance engagement, and academic achievement.” –Weinstein, 2011
Research has indicated the benefits and importance of supporting the “whole student” through a developmentally appropriate approach. As Weinstein (2011) notes, “Research on development reminds us about the important tasks of adolescence (identity development, relatedness, competencies, autonomy, and self-regulation/adaptability) that must be fostered in schools” (p. 7).
There are several recommendations for how schools can reconceptualize student supports. These include using a progressive or developmental approach across school years, focusing on the whole child, and integrating strategies across the multiple domains that are critical for youth development. For example, critical thinking skills span multiple developmental domains. They are key not just to the successful completion of college, but also to the development of healthy bodies, character, social-emotional intelligence, and social relationships (Weinstein, 2011).
By mapping the key factors in college readiness, workplace readiness, and youth development, a Child Trends report suggests that, “college readiness criteria could be expanded to include healthy behaviors, avoiding risky behaviors, positive mental health, resilience, a strong work ethic and moral character, social competence, and creativity. The addition of these attributes would help youth prepare to optimize their success, healthy development, and experience in both college and the workplace” (Child Trends, 2008, p. v).Next Principle