Jan 15, 2020 · 6 min read

How Schools are Expanding the Definition of Student Success

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Releases Profiles of Schools Bringing a "Whole Child" Approach to the Classroom


The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) today released a series of ten profiles highlighting schools that are expanding the definition of student success by going beyond academics — to more fully consider the developmental needs of the whole child. Each of the schools reflect elements of Comprehensive Student Development (CSD), a research-based framework designed to ensure that every young person enters adulthood with the knowledge, skills, habits, and agency to thrive in a changing world.

“Student success is often defined in academic terms, alone. These schools are expanding that definition to include identity, physical, mental, and emotional factors that can have a profound impact on why — and whether — students thrive,” said Brooke Stafford-Brizard, Director of Whole Child Development at CZI. “They reflect the experiences of educators that are translating theory into practice. We hope that their stories can support other schools as they expand their own definitions of student success.”

The CSD framework, described in an accompanying brief, is rooted in six “universal” domains: academic development (which includes content areas like math, science and social studies), cognitive development (which addresses skills such as perception, attention and executive function), identity development (which involves the values and passions that drive an individual’s sense of purpose, and understanding of how culture and community shape them), physical health (such as nutrition, fitness, and sleep), mental health (including how well students cope with stress, and make meaningful social connections), and social emotional development (which covers intra- and inter- personal skills and mindsets such as self-awareness, self-regulation, resilience and curiosity).

The ten schools highlighted in the report represent a wide range of states and regions, types of school, a diverse educator population, and students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.

  • The Atlanta Speech School (the School) is one of the nation’s most comprehensive centers for language and literacy. Through four academic programs, the School serves 363 students, from infant to sixth grade, who are acquiring “the language and literacy abilities essential for deciding their own future and making the greatest possible impact on the lives of others.” To ensure every student is successful, the school combines a rigorous focus on students’ cognitive and academic development with an emphasis on social-emotional and physical wellbeing. Read more in the school profile.
  • Citizens of the World Charter Schools (CWC) serves 4,000 students across four elementary and middle schools in Los Angeles, CA and Kansas City, MO. The school’s definition of student success is captured through 11 graduate dispositions, which represent the skills, habits, and mindsets a student should have developed upon completion of their time at CWC. Read more in the school profile.
  • City Garden Montessori School in St. Louis, MO grew from a single-classroom Montessori school in 1995 to a public charter school serving nearly 300 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. City Garden strives to create an environment where every student is welcomed, every parent is supported, and every teacher is respected. Read more in the school profile.
  • Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx, NY serves students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The school’s mission is “to provide a safe and nurturing environment where all students are cognitively stimulated by a rigorous curriculum as well as personally motivated by our core values” and foster confident, well-rounded leaders who grow up to be critical thinkers and socially responsible adults who positively impact the world around them.” Read more in the school profile.
  • Students at Fugees Academy in Clarkston, GA and Columbus, OH represent nearly 40 countries of origin and speak nearly 50 languages. Fugees’ mission is devoted to working with child survivors of war “to empower refugees to integrate successfully into their new country by providing them the support and structure they need to realize their vast potential.” The school’s unique model includes a positive focus on identity and culture, and comprehensive support of families, which includes helping students and families access medical services and health insurance. Read more in the school profile.
  • The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) fosters a whole child approach to education across one high school and three middle schools in Denver, CO and Los Angeles, CA. Core to GALS model is a daily class called “GALS Series,” in which students encounter content and instruction explicitly designed to promote relational excellence, social-emotional awareness, and identity development. Read more in the school profile.
  • Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School is a diverse public charter elementary school in Washington, D.C. founded on the belief that how children learn is as important as what they learn. Students at Mundo Verde participate bi-annually in “expeditions” that pair character development with academic skills in order to help them to understand, and discover, how their lives are connected to the world around them. Read more in the school profile.
  • Native American Community Academy (NACA) serves more than 450 Native students, representing 37 different tribes in Albuquerque, NM. NACA’s innovative approach to teaching and learning integrates college-preparatory education with Indigenous philosophies and traditions through a culturally responsive curriculum that allows students to see their experiences honored and celebrated in the classroom. Read more in the school profile.
  • The Science and Math Institute (SAMi), located within the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA, serves more than 500 high school students. SAMi’s location in a real-world setting is designed to bring learning to life. As students encounter and apply their learning in engaging, realistic contexts, they accelerate academic, social-emotional, and identity development. Read more in the school profile.
  • Van Ness Elementary serves students in pre-kindergarten through third grade in Washington, DC. Van Ness’ model for educating the whole child is anchored on three components: student well-being (i.e., embedded social-emotional support), student as maker (i.e., integrated maker-centered learning), and student-driven academics (i.e., rigorous, personalized, engaging academics). Read more in the school profile.

“These schools are demonstrating the transformative potential of an approach to learning that values — and capitalizes on — the unique experiences, strengths, and needs of children as individuals,” said Stafford-Brizard. “They are connecting research to practice by building school and classroom environments that reflect the very best of learning and developmental science, and the ways in which we all develop.”


About Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) is a new kind of philanthropy that’s leveraging technology to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges—from eradicating disease, to improving education, to reforming the criminal justice system. Across three core Initiative focus areas of Science, Education, and Justice & Opportunity, we’re pairing engineering with grant-making, impact investing, and policy and advocacy work to help build an inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

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