A Boston College–led working group released the first national guidelines for integrated student support on June 28.
“The guidelines will help everybody to know if [integrated student support] is effectively implemented and what it takes to make a difference, a positive difference, in a child’s life,” said Mary Walsh, the LSEHD Daniel E. Kearns professor.
Walsh defined integrated student support as comprehensive resources for K–12 students intended to promote healthy development and reduce barriers to learning. From dental services to afterschool programs to enrichment offering at local science museums, she said integrated student support can take many forms.
This support is crucial, she said, because every child should have their strengths supported as well as their needs met—especially children in poverty who lack certain support and resources.
“They don’t have the resources sometimes that other students might have in different neighborhoods,” she said. “In some neighborhood moms are able to get kids to lessons after school, to music lessons, or soccer teams—you know, the positive experiences that help kids to grow and develop in healthy ways.”
The Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children—renamed after Walsh in February—is the home of City Connects, a program that works with school counselors or social workers to develop tailored plans to support children.
According to Walsh, BC’s experience with integrated student support through City Connects has helped the University lead a national conversation about integrated student support.
“City Connects was really one of the first integrated student support programs in the country, but it certainly was the first to demonstrate the research to show … what a difference it makes to a child if we provide them integrated, comprehensive support that is coordinated,” she said. “ We have 20 years of research behind [us].”
According to Walsh, the working group began formulating the guidelines last winter, holding virtual meetings and sharing feedback on various drafts between the sessions.
“There were about 50 folks nationally—some from these organizations, some researchers, and some practitioners,” she said. “All of them contributed to this conversation over six months.”
The new guidelines create six core components for resource allocation and budgeting, staffing structure, community and consensus building, data collection and management, and integrating student support across daily school operations, according to a BC News release.
Walsh also outlined two main takeaways from the new guidelines—cooperation among community partners and equality in distributing integrated student support.
“[Schools and agencies in the community] need to become partners and work together, not just to collaborate on general things, but to work together with each student to provide a plan of supports and services that particular child needs,” she said. “And the second big component is we must do this for all children.”
Walsh said there is a growing number of organizations and states striving to provide integrated support to students, so the new guidelines are especially important.
“But everybody’s kind of doing it in different ways, which is fine provided that they all have the basic components that we have learned over the last 20 years are essential in order for integrated support to work,” Walsh said.
According to Walsh, schools will know how to successfully employ the guidelines, as the core elements are very clear.
“I think schools will know what the core elements are of the guidelines so that they’ll be able to implement them as effectively as they can,” Walsh said. “We all know these are the important components, trying to get a plan for every child to support their strengths and address their needs is critical.”