COVID-19 and Whole Child Efforts: Reopening Update

Several national organizations have offered guidance for planning for the reopening of schools closed last spring due to COVID-19. This guidance emphasizes the need to support the whole child—that is, attending to their basic needs (safety, health, nutrition) and well-being. The notion of supporting the whole child is not new, but the pandemic has ignited a clear call to action for schools to provide comprehensive supports that address the needs of children, youth, and their families as schools reopen this fall.

Since the first version of this resource was published on May 22, 2020, the school reopening landscape has evolved considerably. Several additional national organizations have chimed in with recommendations, and most states have now issued reopening guidance for schools and districts. Schools and communities are grappling with decisions about how much schooling can safely take place on site in school buildings given the continuing spread of COVID-19; thus, in many locations, reopening planning must now take into account the possibility of ongoing virtual learning. Further, the murders of George Floyd and other people of color have elevated a national discourse about persistent structural inequities and racism.

Education decisionmakers should strengthen investments in whole child efforts aimed at improving conditions for learning including school climate, social and emotional learning, mental health, and trauma-specific services. When schools and their community partners create positive conditions for learning, they create conditions for realizing robust equity. This is critically important given the persistent inequities that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis.

Education and community leaders will need a shared understanding of the common whole child terms and phrases as they work to mobilize student supports. Community partnership is a cornerstone of successful whole child efforts, and a shared language will help schools and districts collaborate with families and community organizations including youth development organizations and health and social services providers.

This resource provides definitions for selected whole child terms and a crosswalk of these terms to the national reopening guidance. In addition, we have updated this resource to include the following:

  • Findings from an analysis of whole child provisions in state school reopening guidance including trends and state examples; and
  • A list of resources to assist education and community leaders in integrating whole child supports into their reopening strategies.