Opinion
Education Opinion

Students Face Many Out-of-School Challenges. I Should Know.

By Learning Is Social & Emotional Contributor — May 31, 2018 3 min read

By Christine Brandt

I remember middle school as an incredibly challenging time in my life. When I was twelve years old, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That same year, my parents divorced and my dad came out as being gay and was diagnosed with HIV. My dad was homeless for a while and my mom became a single mother raising three children. The stress of this was too much. I tried committing suicide. It’s safe to say that school was far from my first priority.

Today, as the principal of Jason Lee Middle School, a high-poverty, high-mobility school located in Tacoma, Wash., I work with countless students facing many similarly daunting life experiences. From homelessness to abuse, from hunger to the huge responsibility of being caretakers for siblings, our students have so much to wrestle with outside the classroom. Hearing these incredible student stories helps me to understand the holistic shift necessary in education to address the physical, social, and emotional needs of students in order for them to develop academically.

Our journey to support the whole student began in 2014, when Jason Lee chose to take AVID® (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a college preparatory system, school-wide. AVID focuses on systems, leadership, instruction, and culture to help students take control of their own learning. Jason Lee also signed on to the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative (TWCI), a district-wide effort to ensure that every Tacoma student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

Using these approaches, we develop, implement, review, and revise systems that further our vision of supporting the whole child. Those systems include:

Building Community Partnerships


  • Community partnerships to support students’ mental health
  • After-school and summer programs run in conjunction with community partners

New Classroom Strategies


  • Inclusive co-teaching classrooms in both math and language arts to support special education students
  • Classroom implementation of Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) tenets: self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, self-awareness, and social awareness

Schoolwide Policies and Practices


  • A student mentor and advisory system
  • Raising Student Voice and Participation (RSVP), a National Student Council program that gives students opportunities to identify issues in the school and suggest solutions
  • School-wide expectations that students and adults are respectful, responsible, compassionate, and safe
  • Multi-tier systems of support monitored by teams with aligned interventions
  • Restorative justice practices

This approach of supporting the whole child has paid off for Jason Lee. We became an AVID National Demonstration school in 2016; received the 2016 Vision in Action ASCD Whole Child award; opened an innovative “school within a school,” known as Thrive, in 2017 based on neuroscience research on how physical activity and movement can improve student performance; and were highlighted at the 2017 Aspen Institute for Social, Emotional and Academic Development Commission Conference held in Tacoma.

We’ve also seen real impacts on student metrics, most notably our overall attendance rate. Since 2013 we have seen attendance increase from 83% to 91%. We have also seen a decrease in the number of students who display early warning signs of dropping out (i.e., absences, behavioral issues, and failing classes) from 35% in 2016 to 18% currently.

If you ask students about Jason Lee you will hear how proud they are of our diversity, how they have a real voice in decision-making, and how we work to build relationships when conflict occurs. They’ll also tell you how teachers, parents, administrators and community partners believe in them and in the diverse perspective every student brings.

Students know they can make change in their school and the world. Jason Lee Middle School has empowered students to be the difference and we have been rewarded with the positive transformation of our school.

Photo: Christine Brandt leads members of the Aspen National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development on a tour of Jason Lee Middle School. (Courtesy of the Aspen Institute and Tacoma Public Schools/Dean Koepfler)

Christine Brandt is the principal of Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma, Wash.

The opinions expressed in Learning Is Social & Emotional are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read