Experts discussed policy strategies to improve youth outcomes and combat gaps in educational resources in a Thursday virtual event hosted by the Local Children’s Cabinet Network, an advocacy body co-managed by the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The Network is composed of agencies both inside and outside government that convene across the country to share data, develop policies, and work toward the collective goal of improving the overall lives of youth.
Elizabeth Gaines, founder of the Children’s Funding Project and moderator of the webinar, said children’s cabinets are important foundations of a child’s support system.
“There are many different public agencies that touch the lives of children in their own ways,” she said in an interview prior to the event. “A children’s cabinet is a way for leaders in a community to bring those different systems together.”
Gaines listed an array of present-day challenges regarding childhood development and education, which she said have exposed long-standing inequalities.
“We’re talking not only about a pandemic, not only about a recession, not only about racial injustice, and now also about a climate crisis,” she said.
Paul Reville, the founder and director of the Education Redesign Lab and former secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, posited that the urgency of these joint crises, however, could spur change.
Reville shared ideas on concrete action that can be taken to remedy the damage to childhood education resulting from COVID-19, specifically pointing to families as essential components of children’s support ecosystems.
“Families are really and truly at the center of the learning enterprise,” he explained. “We need new connective tissue, new people who do the work of hooking up with the school system and the families — people like AmeriCorps service members and the National Youth Service.”
Karen Pittman, co-founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, added that another key component of this ecosystem includes the relationships formed in school not just with educators, but with all staff who interact with children.
“I am really struggling with how hard it is to get educators to even acknowledge all the people connected to school. I mean the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers, the counselors, the security guards,” Pittman said.
Both Reville and Pittman also highlighted the importance of personalizing education as a means to move children along productive trajectories into adolescence. They said they hoped educators could design success plans that are specific to the needs of individual students.
“How do we build cradle-to-career systems of child development and education that give every child — and all means all — a chance to succeed?” Reville asked the audience to consider.
To support their claims, both speakers outlined specific examples of successful educational ecosystems. Pittman described the success of the Wallace Foundation Summer Learning Initiative in Pittsburgh, a public school project that tested out the integration of academic, social, and emotional skill development.
The project’s success with “coordinating horsepower” through partnership-building gave it a network with which to manage shocks to the system during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Pittman.
Despite the multi-faceted challenges of the current moment, the speakers ultimately expressed hope for the future of the education system.
“Disruption creates opportunity,” Pittman said. “Let’s acknowledge the disruption and let’s build forward together.”