Education is more than academics
The Oregon Legislative Assembly put together a bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators as part of the Joint Committee on Student Success. They were tasked with the job of researching how to prepare children to succeed in K-12 public education.
The findings are not surprising. Families with young children need support to form healthy, attached relationships. It is important to reach families at risk before problems show up in school and impact a child's ability to learn.
The report also cites access to social services (nutrition, medical care and behavioral health), high-quality, and affordable pre-school programs, and time for young students to practice learning before starting school. The committee wants a wider collaboration of community partners and existing support service agencies to ensure these needs are met.
The report assigns costs to this undertaking, and funding will be actively debated in the Oregon Legislative Assembly this session. School districts, like Woodburn, are advocating for additional revenue to support social services and programs that aid in student learning.
This is not a new role for school districts. Most people think of public education as teaching children reading, writing and math, but it has evolved into so much more than that. For example, how do you teach a child if they haven't eaten in two days? If that child has a toothache? How do we teach children who have not slept? How will a child be successful in school if s/he was born addicted to drugs?
Targeted social support for students and families has been a practice in public education for the past 50 years. However, this is the first time we are seeing a focus on "pre-birth" to age 3 — and it is necessary. The sooner we reach children and families in crisis, the better the outcome for their learning and our society, as a whole.
K-12 students at the Woodburn School District have access to nutritious meals, behavioral and mental health counselling, basic health care through our school nurses, academic tutoring, school readiness programs, and housing referrals. Historically, state funding has been sporadic, which can impact the continuity of these services and, more importantly, a child's ability to learn.
Many people ask why Woodburn has some of the highest graduation rates in the state. We have embraced providing these services in addition to academics because we see how they contribute to student learning. Likewise, we have formed unique community partnerships that contribute to their success.
Helping students succeed means providing a strong foundation for learning even before they are born. Adequate funding is critical to this formula, and granting it is the responsibility of those we elect to office.