Richland County Public Education Partners (“RCPEP”) is a 501(c)(3) Local Education Fund founded in 2018 to provide a consistent, unwavering presence that supports and strengthens public education, achievement, and life outcomes for students in Richland County School Districts 1 and 2. While operating independently from the school districts, RCPEP will work closely with the schools and key community stakeholders to identify, support and develop impactful, innovative initiatives to assist teaching and learning. In addition, RCPEP will support local and statewide advocacy by providing parents with the information they need to effectively advocate for children in our public schools.
What challenge is this solution working to address?
Twenty-one percent of children in our schools live in poverty, and twenty-five percent suffer from multiple adverse childhood experiences. Students in either of these situations often have multiple aspects of the public welfare system working in their lives—food and nutrition, housing, mental health, health care, and legal, to name a few, in addition to schools. While each of these providers have a clear role, they operate in distinct silos. Families are left fighting each agency over specific needs, rather than having their holistic needs met. Further, if each agency does a good but not amazing job with the family, the small gaps in service can begin to build up.
Various agencies do not talk to each other, and no single agency has the ability to assess how the family is functioning beyond its own narrow lense. Everyone wants to do well by the families they serve, but the way schools and public welfare agencies are structured—with a focus on a specific service rather than with a focus on a family – makes it impossible. Further, teachers are often trapped trying to serve students with significant needs, without the resources to do so. Short of restructuring the entire government, we propose to build in a layer of support for families and house that layer of support at the school – where most families spend significant parts of their time.
A large portion of students live in poverty or have been affected by trauma—or both. While schools spend resources addressing the symptoms of these student’s challenges, they are not tackling the root cause. Moreover, these students often have multiple aspects of the public welfare system working in their lives. But families are left fighting each agency over specific needs, rather than having their holistic needs met. We propose to build in a layer of support for families and house that layer of support at the school – where most families spend significant parts of their time.
In most districts, school social workers are overworked and relegated to the margins of the school. Therefore, they end up spending time merely bringing families to truancy court to help with attendance issues or providing basic service coordination for individual children. Few districts have defined the role of the social worker as the one who understands the root causes of behaviors in a family and who is the key connecting point between families and teachers, and all the agencies that play a role in the lives of children and their family. If students and families could build relationships over years with social workers, who also are building relationships with government agencies and learning their intricacies, we could see a dramatic change in the lives of children. Someone would have a wide-angle lens on the family, and be able to help a family navigate complicated waters.
This shift, in essence, changes the role of school. We ask teachers to do heroic jobs – longer days in dogged pursuit of academic goals – and often end up with tough discipline systems that fail many of the students we are fighting for, and teachers who burn out and leave the profession. But at the same time, we end up letting mediocre schools and teachers slide by and accept failure for too many students. By focusing on one essential pillar of school structure, this proposal makes the school a supporting force in a family’s life – rather than yet another agency to contend with.
This Solution Is Agile Because…
While the day-to-day work of the social worker will be challenging, the structure of this solution is simple. This simplicity brings the flexibility needed to meet the needs of different communities and schools. It also ensures that it is not adding yet another layer of complicated bureaucracy.