A better approach to Integrated Student Support

Penn GSE’s A. Brooks Bowden joined a working group of experts to draft a new set of national guidelines for Integrated Student Support.

Released this month, the national guidelines for Integrated Student Support offer a starting point for dialogue and decision-making around how to take on issues like hunger, housing and mental health—obstacles that prevent students from getting the most out of school.

A. Brooks Bowden in her library.
Penn GSE assistant professor A. Brooks Bowden. (Image: Penn GSE)

The COVID-19 pandemic shook up the way we think about schooling, introducing new variables to an always shifting setting. But many of the problems that were around before the pandemic have returned to the classroom alongside students. COVID-19 has exacerbated these problems and heightened the public’s awareness of them.

“In policy, so much hinges on the moment, on the context, on the political will, and on what people want to see public investments going toward,” says Penn Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor A. Brooks Bowden, who worked on the new set of national guidelines for Integrated Student Support. “Because of the pandemic, the public learned more about the level of hardship many families and kids are facing, and the importance of serving kids holistically.”

Bowden leads Penn GSE’s Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education, which joined a working group led by Boston College’s Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children. The working group’s leading experts and practitioners partnered to provide schools, districts, and policy makers with resources to address a slate of new and renewed problems. It brought together occasionally competing models—such as City Connects, BARR, and Communities In Schools—and drew from their collective learnings.

The standards underscore the importance of considering both the essential and the extracurricular, making sure basic needs are met—food, shelter, physical and mental health—as well as providing creative outlets and mentorship. “It’s hard to learn if you’re hungry,” Bowden says, “and you can’t really be part of school and engage with learning if internally you are facing crisis, or if you don’t have enough outlets to develop your interests.”

Read more at Penn GSE.