Helping children and young adults develop their talents and strengths also helps them contribute to their communities in the future. Yet systemic inequities that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income households mean too many young people do not have access to such supportive learning environments, and these inequities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Year is an educational and human development organization that partners with schools nationwide to support student success and address the root causes of inequitable educational outcomes. Every year, City Year recruits a diverse group of Student Success Coaches, ages 18 through 25, to deliver its Whole School Whole Child (WSWC) model. City Year Student Success Coaches commit to serving in schools full time for one school year. During that time, they collaborate with teachers, administrators, and other Student Success Coaches to plan and deliver personalized support services to students who need it most and to create a safe and supportive school climate where students can feel committed to and capable of achieving their academic and life goals.
The WSWC model consists of holistic and personalized academic, social, and emotional services that are designed to help students develop the skills they need to navigate and complete high school. City Year Student Success Coaches offer universal services to all students (Tier 1) and targeted intervention services to a subset of students (Tier 2).
- Universal (Tier 1) services are provided to all students in the school. They include after-school programs and school-wide events that recognize positive behavior and student success. They also include in-classroom support for students in English language arts (ELA) and math.
- Targeted (Tier 2) services are provided to students who appear to be at increased risk of not graduating based on early warning indicators related to attendance, engagement manifested as behavior, and course performance in ELA or math. Tier 2 services blend tutoring in ELA and math with social and emotional development and behavior support. Student Success Coaches also provide attendance coaching. These services are provided one-on-one or in small groups in class, during class time but outside of class, or between classes.
In 2017, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and MDRC began a five-year evaluation of WSWC services in 22 middle schools in five large, urban school districts. The evaluation focused on middle school because it is a pivotal time when students form their identities and learn the foundational academic, social, and emotional skills that they need to succeed in high school and beyond. Building evidence on what works for this age group is an important pathway for improving high school success.
The evaluation included two impact studies. The first study explored the effects of the WSWC model (Tier 1 and Tier 2 services) on the outcomes of students enrolled in the study schools, using a quasi-experimental study design. The second study attempted to isolate the effect of Tier 2 services for individual students who were identified as being at heightened risk of dropping out of school, using a student-level, randomized experiment. The evaluation also included an implementation study.
The evaluation was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. School closures in March 2020 interrupted WSWC services as well as the availability of data for the evaluation. The evaluation therefore focuses on the implementation and effects of WSWC services before schools closed in March 2020. Despite this change in the study timeline, the evaluation provides valuable insights about the benefits of school and community-partner collaborations that provide holistic support services designed to meet particular needs. It also draws attention to the opportunity to rethink the measures evaluators use to measure student experience and growth.
The research described here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education, through grant R305A170227 to AIR. The opinions expressed are those of the study team and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.