Amid a Virtual Back-to-School Season, National Initiative Offers Holistic Youth Support

Dozens of groups are banding together to help local school and community leaders ensure that young people can fully access education and support in a virtual environment caused by the pandemic.

Responding to growing concerns about the welfare of children—especially the most vulnerable—AASA, the School Superintendents Association, has joined forces with the Forum for Youth Investment, the National Urban League, the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and more than 30 other national education and youth development organizations on an initiative to support kids in a year when “back to school” looks very different.

The “Build Forward Together” project seeks to coordinate strategies and best practices for a holistic approach to support students, school district leaders, principals, teachers, and families as they work to both maintain normalcy and rebuild in the wake of the pandemic.

“These things can only be accomplished when working together. All the systems, organizations, and adults that serve children must align resources, strategies, and services to ensure that children aren’t falling through the cracks,” said Bryan Joffe, AASA’s project director.

A particular challenge is that “out-of-school” time may comprise a large portion of many kids’ time this fall. That presents many issues for schools, communities, and partners who have to meet the needs of children in a virtual or hybrid school situation, Joffe said.

A virtual learning atmosphere adds to the challenges of dropout prevention, providing health services, feeding hungry families, mentoring, and ensuring children have access to services that can help them maintain their social and emotional well-being.

The groups hope to harness the best-practice equity strategies of top school leaders together with the knowledge, expertise, and research of AASA, the Forum, National Urban League, and AIR to bring policy and practice recommendations to school and community leaders across the country, Joffe said.

The initiative aims to consolidate the strategies so that school leaders don’t have to create their responses alone while simultaneously working to safely reopen schools or expand virtual learning opportunities.

These difficult times could present a chance for schools, youth-serving organizations, cities, and states to evaluate what efforts are most important to keep and what can be left behind, Joffe said. It is a chance for school communities to rebuild in stronger and more effective ways.

“We know that from periods of tumult, positive changes can come, and we’re hopeful that education can respond to this moment and ‘Build Forward Together,’ not just for this year, but for the future,” he said.

(ake1150sb/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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