More than math and reading: Schools support students' health and well-being

As schools continue to work out details of how this coming school year will start, students’ educational needs aren’t the only concerns in mind.

Aside from the current health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have become a place that support the health and well-being of kids in a variety of ways.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has emphasized the importance of schools opening this fall, but not only to focus on academics.

“Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits,” the AAP website states. “Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.”

When Ohio schools closed with little notice because of the pandemic in March, districts carried the burden of not only teaching kids at home, but also providing the other services and support that students and families need.

Food is one example of a staple that many families rely on during the school year. Springfield City Schools are free lunch designated, which is a necessity for many district families, says Amy Stacy, Springfield City School District’s (SCSD) director of community initiatives.

“Many of our students come and eat breakfast and lunch with us, and that may be one of the consistent things in their life,” she says. “For us, it’s proven that a student can’t learn if their basic needs aren’t met, and shelter and food are those two basic needs. So, if they’re coming to school, and they’re going hungry at home, they’re not going to meet their max learning potential.”

Especially now, with even more families facing economic struggles than normal because of job shifts caused by the pandemic, Stacy says providing those meals is key to students being healthy and happy.

Though details of how the process will work are still being decided, Stacy says that whether in-person or virtual, SCSD students will continue to have access to school-provided meals, just as they did in the spring.

Teachers often become a sort of extended family members because of the amount of time they spend with students and families. They learn individual students’ personalities, like and dislikes, and demeanor, in addition to their learning styles. Oftentimes, they can also be essential in recognizing when students have struggles in their home life that aren’t being addressed.

But, Stacy says a virtual environment instead of an in-person environment can make it more difficult to identify issues for which districts might need to offer assistance.

“Our teachers are able to check in on students and see how they’re doing with academics or if there are behavior changes, and then they can key in on if there’s some kind of situation the student needs support with – whether that be a change in family where the student needs additional help or we can get the whole family to an outside resource that can help them,” Stacy says. “So, there’s just a lot of interaction with students and staff that without being face-to-face, it’s hard to get to that level.

“It’s kind of like being in a family, where you can tell someone is having an off day, and you start doing a little investigation as to why.”

Along the same social-emotional parts of school, Stacy shared other not specifically academic skills students gain while at school.

“You have that social-emotional aspect of it is the interaction with people, learning how to communicate with others, learning collaborations skills, learning communication skill, learning all those core skills that help us in the longterm that aren’t math or reading or writing,” Stacy says.

She also emphasized after-school programs and the additional support those provide to students.

“I’m involved in a lot of the after school programming that we do throughout the school district to support kids after a traditional school day because we know that a lot of our kids need not only the education, but they have working families or parents working more than one job. So, we have after school programs to help support those families with tutoring and other opportunities,” she says. “Just having another caring, compassionate human being in a student’s life … that’s a gap we’re able to fill for students yet again in that social-emotional aspect outside of a traditional classroom setting that are crucial to our students.”

Stacy says that whether in-person or online, Springfield City Schools will continue to provide a positive learning environment, tutoring options, and information about resources families can reach out to if they need assistance, for example, local food bank schedules and other social services.

Though a number of families opted for the virtual option this coming school year, Stacey says that in the longrun, the stability of in-classroom learning and the connections students build with educators can’t be underestimated.

“It offers the students structure. We all know that students do better with structure,” she says. “Inside the classroom, teachers have a direct relationship, and students really do thrive on having that interaction with people. A lot of students, as you talk to them later in life, have one teacher throughout their lifetime that has made a huge impact on them and what they’re doing in the future.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.