If the pandemic’s made anything clear, it’s the value of the public school system. A school building doesn’t serve simply as a space for learning, but also as a community hub for nutritional support, emotional and social growth, and health services.
When schools remained primarily online for the start of this school year, a typical middle-class family could solve myriad issues by creating a learning pod with neighborhood kids and, if needed, hire a tutor. Yet for a student experiencing poverty, these are luxuries. Without a network of parents, resources, healthcare, and technology, our neediest children—especially those facing the critical middle school years—find themselves on a rickety raft of isolation with no safe harbor on the horizon.
In 2015, OnTrack Greenville sought to break though these barriers using a “Collective Impact” model as a framework. The approach links arms with community initiatives, families, and teachers to create a network of resources focused on keeping kids engaged in school. Today, five area middle schools utilize OnTrack, including Tanglewood Middle, where for the last decade, Dr. Edward Anderson served as principal, fully embracing the school’s motto: “It Takes a Village.”
“I grew up poor in Greenville, but I didn’t feel poor,” he says. “We had a roof over our head, we ate every night, and if something went wrong, we had family to support us. As a kid, I never knew when there was struggle because there was always someone to help.”
Understanding the importance of a communal support system for children stayed with Anderson during his tenure at Tanglewood, where he worked closely with OnTrack to improve academic achievement, increase attendance, and reduce disciplinary referrals. And in July, he furthered his experience when he accepted the role of executive director at OnTrack.
OnTrack’s holistic approach begins with an Early Warning Response System meeting. Using technology provided by the Greenville County School System, a child is flagged for drops in attendance, behavior, or grades. While words like “database” and “digital flagging” carry a whiff of the impersonal, OnTrack injects the system with humanity.
“Say a student is off track because they’ve received 10 disciplinary referrals,” says Dr. Anderson. He explains that when a social worker and parent coordinator work together, they can better identify any instability happening in the home. Once “we know the root issue, the team wraps around the family, connecting them with resources to help them find stability,” he says.
“OnTrack Greenville demonstrates how the power of the community can empower struggling students to stay in school and successfully lead them on the path to graduation. Middle school has been identified as a time when students face many challenges that lead them to disengage academically. The Capital Corporation is honored to recognize this organization for the support it provides to students for success.”
—C. Dan Adams, president and CEO, The Capital Corporation
Being an OnTrack school means a child receives direct interventions: summer programs, school-based healthcare from Prisma Health, Communities in Schools specialists, and a mental health counselor.
“The mental health counselors are the heartbeat of the whole process,” Dr. Anderson shares. “They look at the data every week and determine which kids are going to be discussed. They lead those discussions and figure out how we’re going to work together to get them back on track.”
For many, COVID-19 magnified issues no computer data can fix: hunger, problems at home, and lack of resources that leave many children adrift. A Chromebook doesn’t do much unless there’s Internet access and a caregiver to keep track of assignments—a caregiver who most likely has their own job to manage.
“This time requires us to truly act as a community,” says Dr. Anderson. And indeed, now more than ever, it truly takes a village.