A new initiative from the Michigan Department of Education will likely change the landscape of education for years to come, by focusing on the 'whole child.'
“What they mean by the 'whole child' is that schools now must look at emotional, mental, physical and academic well- being,” Maple Valley Data Coordinator Jeff Byrne said. “It will be a whole new way of looking at things.”
Comparing it to previous education overhauls like No Child Left Behind, Byrne said the Michigan Integrated Continuous Improvement Plan will likely be in place for at least 15 years.
The plan is being piloted in specific schools starting this month, and will be gradually rolled out until it becomes standard at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Instead of the annual reporting system schools currently use, which focuses largely on academics, MICIP will be a continuous process with 10 separate categories to put focus on whole child wellness. These will cover aspects such as employee wellness, community involvement, health, physical activity, nutrition, environment and social, emotional and psychological climate and services.
“That's going to change the landscape of education,” Maple Valley Superintendent Katherine Bertolini said.
“It's vitally important,” Hastings Area School System Superintendent Dan Remenap said. “The state is taking a good step.”
“I think the shift is much needed,” Lakewood Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Jay Larner agreed. “For the past decade or longer, there has been such a high focus on overall academic achievement.”
But education is cyclical, Larner said, and is constantly changing to incorporate new information.
“There is a serious need of focus on social and emotional process,” Larner said.
“With mental health issues right now, its imperative that we look at whole-child development,” Remenap said.
If students are struggling socially, emotionally, and psychologically, educators say they will struggle with academics.
“A lot of our kids need mental health support,” Delton Kellogg Schools Superintendent Kyle Corlett said.
When students are struggling with their emotions, they tend to have act out in class, which requires their teacher's attention and takes away from instructional time for the rest of the students as well.
“Our teachers are not counselors,” Corlett said.
Delton Kellogg, like other schools in Barry County, partners with organizations like Barry County Community Mental Health and Spiritual Care Consultants to provide counseling for students and training for teachers on how to deal with behavioral issues.
But administrators say they didn't need a mandate from the state to pay attention to mental health, or other areas such as nutrition and community involvement.
Barry County superintendents say they've been taking the whole-child approach for years.
“In all of my work in education, the most rewarding places I've taught have had a whole-child focus,” Bertolini said. “I think, when we teach and learn, we're not just dealing with a cognitive brain in isolation, we're dealing with a heart, and nutrition, and sleep and we're dealing with how secure the kids feel about themselves in relation to their peer group.
“I don't see it being a huge shift in how we do things,” Remenap said. “It's already part of our belief system.”
Hastings school initiatives, such as multi-tiered systems of support and extending recess time, have been geared toward meeting whole-child needs.
While the MDE is currently training and educating staff on the new system, there are still a number of unanswered questions for educators.
The state Legislature has not informed school officials about how much they plan to allocate toward meeting the new mandate.
Some superintendents wonder about the timeline of the rollout, and whether it will meet the state's goals.
“A lot of the time, the state will come up with something, and delay it several years,” Corlett said.
“School districts sink or swim based on decisions made locally, not mandates from the state, in my opinion,” Remenap said.
Regardless of what the new system looks like, or when it will be implemented locally, educators plan on continuing to focus on the whole-child approach.
“I just think it's good practice,” Bertolini said. “ We're not doing this because it's a mandated thing, we're doing this because its the best thing for our kids.”