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Progressive Voice: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child

Emma Violand-SanchezProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or

The Arlington Public Schools’ mission is to instill a love of learning in students and to prepare them to be responsible and productive global citizens.

To help achieve that mission, APS develops a six-year strategic plan with staff and community involvement. Our 2011-2017 Strategic Plan has helped guide our schools to significant successes. We look forward to building upon those successes in the upcoming school year and to addressing capacity issues that arise, in part, from our achievements.

As Chair of the School Board, I am asking our community to focus particular attention this year on Goal 5 of the APS Strategic Plan, “Meet the Needs of the Whole Child.” In pursuing this goal, we commit to nurturing students’ intellectual, personal, social, physical and emotional development and to providing learning environments that are safe, healthy, engaging and responsive to student needs.

With nearly four decades of experience as an educator, I have come to believe that this goal, to support the Whole Child, is the most important. If our students do not feel safe, are not healthy, and do not feel engaged, they will struggle to learn. I believe the ultimate goal in education is, at its heart, a call to care and support our students so they can succeed.

National and local studies, such as the 2014 ASCD/CDC report, “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” substantiate the need for this increased emphasis on the Whole Child. The Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families reported in its 2014 Community Report Card that one quarter of Arlington children entering kindergarten are obese or overweight. Both reports note that children who are physically active and receive proper nutrition are better learners.

For this reason, I am asking that we, as a community, put greater emphasis on compassion and caring, on the promotion of the overall physical and mental well-being of our students. We need to change the conversation about accountability. We need to expand our definition of success beyond test scores to include a focus on the development of the Whole Child, making sure each student is healthy, safe, engaged, and supported by caring adults.

In this regard, I believe we must look at enhancing physical, mental health and wellness services in our schools, community and county. We must collaborate and align resources with the child’s needs at the center. Families, educators, community organizations and county services must provide the solid network of support essential for student success. We have so many resources here in Arlington. We now need to make sure they fully work to support our students.

The result will be students who are prepared for college, career and citizenship as well as the full breadth of experiences that their multifaceted adult lives will bring. We will continue to look to test scores as one indicator of our children’s success and well being. In this measure, Arlington students do better and better each year, as APS’ recent release on SOL scores reports.

During the new school year and beyond, we can continue to improve both academically and in our support for the Whole Child. To do so we must work collectively to address our students’ needs. We all must share responsibility for our students and their success. With this focus on the Whole Child, our students will be knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, and ready for the world beyond APS.

Emma Violand-Sanchez is Chair of the Arlington County School Board. She joined the Board in January 2009 and previously served as Chair during the 2012-13 school year. She is a career educator and has lived in Arlington since 1978.

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