July 25, 2011
By Roberto Viramontes
In an era where students, parents, schools and educators still await the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it is great to know we still have champions on Captiol Hill that are leading the charge for meeting the needs of students. This week, Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) introduced the Developing Innovative Partnerships and learning Opportunities that Motivate Achievement (DIPLOMA) Act which authorizes states to help local school districts build community-wide partnerships to address nutrition, health, personal safety, family stability, and other factors that determine how well children can perform in school.
While education policy debates are heavily focused on teacher effectiveness, cutting K-12 programs, and school turnaround efforts, it is refreshing to see that school-community partnerships are also squeezing their way into the limelight. When schools are able to leverage community resources to help meet the comprehensive needs of students, strengthening academic achievement becomes more of a reality. When we are able to address the “stressors” influence teaching and learning, it is then that we ensure every student has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, thus, we must address the needs that our children bring into the classroom. When a child misses school because they’re sick, when they can’t see the board, or when they’re distracted by hunger or concerns about their safety, that child can’t learn, which is why the DIPLOMA Act is so vital - it eliminates a blind-spot in federal education policy, recognizing that what happens outside the classroom affects what happens inside the classroom as well.
Rather than simply hammering down on high stakes test preparation, the DIPLOMA Act promotes a collaborative framework that integrates services and engages families and communities to help address comprehensive student needs. By creating partnerships, school can leverage the resources that are available in the community (non-profits, postsecondary institutions, local government agencies, faith-based services, housing, medical and counseling services, academic intervention programs, specialized instructional support) in order to provide the wraparound supports needed to tackle learning barriers that are found inside and outside the school. Developing school-community partnerships isn’t always easy, therefore, we must look for ways to develop incentives and provide needed resources so that schools can build the capacity that to cultivate key partnerships. In doing so, we promote a more systemic and comprehensive approach to education. The First Focus Campaign for Children applauds the efforts by Representatives Judy Chu, Dave Loebsack and Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) who introduced the Senate version of the DIPLOMA Act (S.426) back in March 2011. Thank you all for providing children and youth with opportunities to meet their needs, address learning barriers and strengthen academic achievement.