Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Main content start

Partnering to Address Inequities through a Whole Child Approach

I am driven by the idea that all youth should have access to high quality education, live in safe and healthy communities, and have a variety of employment opportunities available to them. For these reasons I was drawn to the work of the Gardner Center, which conducts youth development research through a collaborative youth-sector approach, in order to effect positive change in the lives of youth. The youth sector encompasses the multitude of organizations, institutions, and individuals in a community that collectively support the development of youth. At the Gardner Center we use a tri-level framework focusing on the individual (youth/student), setting (school, classroom, program) and system (district, public agency, community) levels, recognizing that changes at one level have affects at the other levels. This idea is particularly important when we think about the effects of institutional and structural racism in which historical policies and practices at the systems level have had implications at the setting and individual levels; this makes the Gardner Center’s commitment to equity in youth outcomes so important.   

This commitment to equity is demonstrated in our work with community partners, and I’ve had the opportunity to see it firsthand working in research-practice partnerships in Oakland’s and East Palo Alto’s most high-needs communities. Although the interventions may differ, the projects in these communities use a whole child approach, emphasizing the importance of social-emotional and health and wellness outcomes working in concert with academic outcomes.

In addition to advancing equity, community partners see the importance in using data to guide their work. The Gardner Center has worked with partners to articulate and develop theories of change and identify indicators to collect and track over time to measure progress. Furthermore, some of these partnerships have engaged in conversations to build data capacity through data piloting efforts or have linked student level data across partners to answer research questions that no one agency can answer on its own.

In Oakland, school administrators and staff have talked about community schools as a means to support more equitable student outcomes. In 2010, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) launched an initiative to transform all district schools into full service community schools, which provide integrated student and family services and supports so that all students are ready to learn and able to develop the skills, habits, and mindsets that provide a foundation for academic and social success. These integrated services and supports include health and wellness services, expanded learning programming, and family resources and engagement opportunities, and are delivered through strategic partnerships with community-based organizations, the majority of which are co-located on school campuses. We’re collaborating with OUSD to document and assess their current efforts with an eye to improving policies and practices that will help all schools reach the initiative’s goals.

In East Palo Alto, Youth Empowerment Strategies for Success (YESS), a collaborative of over 40 youth-serving organizations, public agencies, and institutions have come together to improve outcomes for youth by addressing inequities within the community and working together with a unified vision for the future. Specifically, collaborative partners are addressing the achievement gap by providing programs and services (e.g., academic, health and wellness, social services) to youth most in need, both in-school and out-of-school. The Gardner Center is a research partner leading efforts to link data across multiple providers to inform service delivery strategies.  Other important work in the community targets under-credited and truant high school youth. This project is called SWAG, Students With Amazing Goals, and is a cross-sector partnership providing a comprehensive set of services and case management to help SWAG youth graduate from high school and prepare for college and career. Here, the Gardner Center is building data capacity and conducting research to better understand program implementation and the ultimate benefits to youth who participate. 

Using data to drive decision-making has the power to strengthen important programs and services for the youth who need them most and is critical in advancing equity in youth outcomes. 

More News Topics