Teach at table with students.
Photograph courtesy of Van Ness Elementary School
Partner Spotlight


The Problem

  • Children’s academic success is linked to their overall well-being. Decades of research show that adverse experiences create additional stress, affecting a student’s attention, learning and behavior. Conversely, education models grounded in a whole child approach leverage students’ assets and improve outcomes.75
  • Many educators do not have access to guidance, resources and professional development to implement a whole child approach in their schools.

CZI Support

Transcend and Van Ness Elementary School in Washington, D.C., partnered together to help schools in D.C., and nationwide take a whole child approach to teaching and learning, helping cultivate critical thinkers and develop a generation of confident, curious and compassionate members of society. With support from Transcend, the Van Ness Elementary Whole Child Model was codified to help more students build the skills they need to regulate their emotions, manage stress and handle conflicts productively. Transcend and Van Ness are also expanding sites for research and evidence gathering through a federal Education Innovation and Research grant to understand the impact of their model on academic outcomes.

The Impact

Adopting the whole child model requires educators and school leaders to implement school wide practices that create a safe, connected environment for children and adults. Because each school community is different, Transcend and Van Ness collaborated to develop tools to support the implementation of the whole child model in various school contexts. 

Two of the biggest challenges are building community-wide support for implementation and ensuring sustainability. Transcend created resources to help educators understand the readiness of their communities to adopt the whole child model — including conducting fieldwork with each district’s students, staff and school community. The fieldwork helped to understand support and interest in the implementation of the whole child model — along with potential challenges — to ensure that it could be sustained.

Support from Transcend has helped 33 schools adopt the student well-being component of the Van Ness Whole Child Model, including throughout Washington, D.C.; in Aldine, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Carrollton, Texas.76 Research in these schools shows that the model supports outcomes such as perseverance, self-efficacy and a sense of belonging that are critical for learning.




Transcend is made up of a diverse team of educators, innovators and changemakers with experience as school and system leaders, working toward a vision where all young people learn in ways that enable them to thrive in and transform the world. The organization is unified in its mission to support school communities to create and spread extraordinary, equitable learning environments.

If kids don’t feel physically safe and emotionally safe — if they don’t have a sense of belonging, if they don’t feel cared for and loved — they are not able to access the parts of their brains that are needed for critical thinking and academic learning.

Cynthia Robinson-Rivers