Online Professional Learning and
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21st Century Community Learning Centers

A Whole Child Framework and Out-of-School Time

Y4Y recently enjoyed a conversation with the Ohio Department of Education’s Brittany Miracle, who is the assistant director of health, attendance, and family and community engagement supports within their Office of Whole Child Supports. We asked Ms. Miracle to shed some light on how her state came to adopt its Whole Child Framework, and the lessons out-of-school programs can learn from it. [Podcast]

Y4Y: Ms. Miracle, please share with our listeners a little about how Ohio developed its Whole Child Framework.

BM: All of Ohio’s whole child work began with Ohio’s strategic plan for education: Each Child, Our Future. During stakeholder outreach to develop the strategic plan, the Department heard that nonacademic needs must be prioritized as much as academics. Each Child, Our Future provides a common vision for our children — that they are challenged to discover and learn, prepared to pursue a fulfilling post-high school path and empowered to become resilient, lifelong learners who contribute to society. Among the strategies in Each Child, Our Future is a strategy to meet the needs of the whole child, which reads, “Work together with parents, caregivers and community partners to help schools meet the needs of the whole child.” This strategy emerged from a deep recognition that “unless the whole child is considered and supported, the conditions for learning are less than optimal.” This strategy called upon the Ohio Department of Education to develop, in partnership with stakeholders, a whole child framework.

The Department convened the Whole Child Advisory Committee, composed of cross-sector experts from across the state, representing educators, counselors and content experts in mental and behavioral health, family engagement, social-emotional learning, nutrition, and services for vulnerable youth. Over a 10-month period, the advisory group convened regularly to share expertise, set priorities and review existing whole child frameworks to craft Ohio’s Whole Child Framework. The advisory group decided to adopt and modify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” framework as Ohio’s framework. Ohio’s Whole Child framework provides a blueprint to address the needs most central to a child’s holistic development.

Y4Y: We understand that you’re now in the implementation stage of the framework. Considering that educators are juggling accelerated learning and recovery, not to mention initiatives that districts might have been hoping to act on before the pandemic hit, please tell us a little about what that implementation looks like and your office’s efforts to ensure successful implementation.

BM: Ohio’s Whole Child Framework places the whole child at the center, with considerations for districts, supports and partnerships surrounding the child through a comprehensive approach. The framework is not meant to be something off the shelf, additional or different — in many cases schools and districts already have policies, programs and practices to address the needs of the whole child. But it provides a blueprint to meet a child’s intellectual and social development needs that are necessary to fully engage in learning and school. Schools, districts and out-of-school programs can use this blueprint to coordinate resources, policies, processes and practices to ensure equitable access to challenging academics and whole child supports through a continuous improvement cycle. The framework allows districts, to plan and implement whole child supports by analyzing data, identifying strategies and determining impact of implementation. Districts can lean into existing processes and procedures while tailoring supports and interventions to the unique needs of students, families and their community.

Ohio’s Whole Child Framework launched in November 2020, at the height of the pandemic. We heard from parents, community members, schools and districts that our students needed whole child supports, such as social-emotional learning, mental and physical health supports, and a positive school culture, to be successful now more than ever. We also heard that educators could not handle one more thing. As part of our launch and messaging for Ohio’s Whole Child Framework, we released information in bite-sized chunks that included actionable resources for families, caregivers, educators and community members. This included talking with families about implementing positive behavioral interventions and supports at home during remote learning, creating a positive learning environment to welcome students back into the building, using strategies to communicate the importance of regular school attendance and engagement with families, and considering how to utilize federal relief dollars to support the whole child. We also released a series of Facebook Live events that featured schools and districts already engaging in whole child work to serve as an example for those beginning to engage in whole child supports.

Y4Y: Let’s jump into what this means for our audience of out-of-school time professionals who may or may not live and work in Ohio. Can you share your key takeaways with them?

BM: I’m so glad you asked this question. Partnerships are the crux of the framework. Everyone — not just those in schools — shares the responsibility of preparing children for a successful future. Everybody benefits when community partners come together to invest in students. The framework emphasizes the importance of partnerships with both community organizations and families as partners. Addressing the needs of each child starts with parents and caregivers and extends to schools and other government and community organizations that serve children. Schools are logical environments for addressing the health, social, emotional and behavioral needs of children, but schools and districts cannot support this work alone — and they don’t need to. Community partners are dedicated to serving the needs of the whole child as much as districts are. Community partners can support whole child work by providing resources, such as experience, content expertise, data sources, joint planning, and human, financial and organizational capital. Through sustainable and strategic partnerships, schools and districts can provide services to students, not just during the school day but before and after school as well.

Y4Y: It’s a bittersweet irony that much of the motivation for formalizing your state’s Whole Child Framework was to ensure the mental health of young people, even before the pandemic wreaked such havoc in this area. Can you flesh out this priority just a little more and how the framework places mental well-being front and center.

BM: Yes, the mental wellness of students was a priority of our Whole Child Advisory Committee. The committee began their work on the framework prior to the pandemic. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but we’re so grateful that the advisory committee had the foresight to prioritize mental and behavioral health during the development of the framework because our students need it now more than ever. Schools and districts may provide a range of mental health promotion, prevention, counseling and psychological services to support the behavioral health of students and promote success in the learning process. School personnel may serve as liaisons who can help students and their caregivers identify the supports and services available to improve their academic success and well-being. The framework acknowledges that schools and districts can provide mental and behavioral supports in a number of different ways, but emphasizes that services should be part of a dynamic framework, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). These frameworks build positive mental and behavioral health for all students (this is Tier I: universal supports); provide early interventions to small groups of students who need additional supports (this is Tier II); and offers individual interventions to students demonstrating persistent challenges (or Tier III). This tiered approach is important because if we can provide what students need at Tier I or Tier II, it preserves the most intensive resources (Tier III) for students most in need. When students’ mental health needs are met, they are able to be present and active learners — allowing teachers to focus on lessons instead of redirecting behavior.

All education partners, including out-of-school time partners, can prioritize the mental wellness of students. All education partners can share common language and goals for mental health promotion and behavioral health topics, such as how to recognize, respond to and refer students who are experiencing mental health challenges. Creating a safe environment, providing consistent expectations, and positively engaging families and caregivers all contribute to the mental wellness of students and are the responsibility of the whole school community.

Y4Y: Equal access to implementation of the framework seems like it could be a challenge in any state. Do you have any words of advice for our 21st CCLC programs that inherently serve populations of students in the margins?

BM: One way Ohio is helping to ensure equitable access to whole child education is to connect and align with other offices within the Ohio Department of Education. This ensures common language and understanding of the framework, but also makes deeper connections for implementation. And we have multiple different modes for school, district and community partners to engage with the framework. These range from our Whole Child webpage to content for those interested in learning more, to a version of our Whole Child Network designed for those interested in taking a deep dive into implementation.

Y4Y: Finally, I have a question that’s really geared toward the state coordinators of 21st CCLC grants in our audience. I know that you collaborated with Ohio’s 21st CCLC state coordinator to be sure that the grant request for proposal document, or RFP, aligned with and perhaps even gave preference to applicants with commitment to Ohio’s Whole Child Framework. Can you tell us a little about that process and who you might suggest state coordinators collaborate with in their own states to stay on the cutting edge of this work, especially as new RFPs are in development as we speak?

BM: Yes, that’s a great example of alignment within a state agency. We worked with our 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant administrators to embed whole child language and priorities into their most recent request for grant proposals (or RFP). We had team members on the writing team who had a specific eye on school safety, anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying, family engagement and positive behavioral interventions and supports. As I mentioned previously, it can be really powerful when expectations, language and culture are consistent from before school (like a bus ride and breakfast in the cafeteria) throughout the day, to afterschool activities. We also recommend having a 21st Century Community Learning Centers representative sit on the leadership or PBIS team in the school they are serving. This helps to align priorities and keep everybody moving in the same direction. It could be a monthly literacy goal where all third-graders are reading the same book. The afterschool program could use the same questions teachers are using in the classroom to reinforce the lesson. It could also be using common language when talking to parents about the importance of regular student attendance.

Part of Ohio’s framework is having districts align their programs and resources — we’re committed to doing the same thing at the state level. We can’t have local alignment if we’re still working in silos at the state level. Ohio has also worked with our McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program, our Office of School Improvement and Office of Federal Programs, and those conversations have resulted in deep connections for implementation.

Y4Y: Thank you so much for helping our audience to understand what has gone into the development and implementation of Ohio’s Whole Child Framework. Can you offer any last “do’s and don’ts” or bits of wisdom you’ve gained while doing this important work?

BM: Meet people where they are. We’ve learned this at all levels of implementation. Not all districts are ready to take on the full framework, but they might prioritize school safety by training staff in threat assessment. Not all families will want to participate in whole child supports, but will provide feedback in a parent survey to inform district priorities. This work is multifaceted and is ever-evolving. Be patient and be flexible.

Learn more about Ohio’s Whole Child Framework at https://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Student-Supports/Ohios-Whole-Child-Framework.

Read Ohio’s Whole Child Framework.

Brittany Miracle is a social worker and policy wonk who’s passionate about making education accessible and equitable for all students. When she’s not talking about Ohio’s Whole Child Framework, Brittany is an avid reader, a toddler commander and a budding baker.