In a time when students need social and emotional support more than ever, Unified Student Supports (USS) is answering the call.
Started at the beginning of the 2019–20 school year , USS stepped up in a big way during the pandemic to provide help and support for students as their daily lives changed drastically. The department merged the Health Services, Special Education, and Student Services departments, creating a single, unified system to help some students with physical, mental and emotional health challenges.
In an age where school violence and high-profile tragedies can make going to school a stressful , USS hopes to provide services that help make schools a safe space for the students who attend, and can offer support and counseling, or can just lend a helping hand or answer questions for students, said Courtnei Flucas, the USS officer for the Academic Division of IPS.
But the unique challenges that COVID-19 brought to IPS students created immediate issues for USS to manage. Flucas believes those issues extended to the needs of special education students or students who were without stable housing, many of whom were not able to manage remote learning and still needed a classroom environment.
“So often the students served by our programming are those that are in the margins or not always considered or reflected in the intentional systems that are build districtwide, or those practices that are implemented in the classroom,” she said. “Our charge is really to set the standard for what inclusivity and equity looks and feels like so that our students can all be well served and have an opportunity to achieve and reach their goals.”
USS Met Pandemic Head On
In 2019-20 when IPS shifted from in person to remote learning for the last few months of the semester, USS helped provide meet the needs of students who had alternative educational requirements.
These efforts ensured educational equity for everyone. In a time where anxiety was elevated, USS sought to provide children some stability when they needed it most, Flucas said.
As the pandemic’s grip haa loosened and schools return to normal operations, USS has started buildin a framework to create an inclusive, equitable system with the capability to serve their students — no small task when you consider the diversity of schools, neighborhoods, age ranges, needs and family situations.
Flucas also noted that COVID-19 allowed USS to double down on health service-related initiatives. Taking advantage of IPS’ community partnership with Indiana University, the team was able to increase their staff of nurses from nine pre-COVID to putting a nurse in each school, which included using temp agencies where necessary.
A Transformative Move
IPS’ unique approach to packaging these support services has been transformative, and the district recently rebranded the project “YES, IPS.” The YES acronym stands for Yielding Equitable Supports. Underneath this campaign are 30 initiatives to promote and enhance supports for students, staff, and families.
The new focus is on bridging gaps and increasing responsiveness to schools’ needs, whether the barriers they’re facing are cultural or financial, Flucas said.
“We need to mitigate all those factors and ensure that teachers have the ability to build relationships and build a culture of high expectation in their classroom while modeling for kids what it looks like to have emotional intelligence,” she said. “This campaign is really the umbrella that we will utilize to reinforce what we have learned but also what we have initiated post- COVID.”
In addition, funds have been allocated to staff to create programs like the Implicit Bias Series. This allows principals to meet on alternating months, leading sessions rooted in acknowledging and understanding implicit bias in daily life. Staff also can participate in outside workshops on the topic.
“We are excited about the possibilities that we can show our staff, students, and school community what it looks like when we invest in our students,” Flucas said. “Ultimately, we want our kids to show up to school and when they get there feel like they have that sense of belonging. “And, then we want them to be able to thrive both in and out of the classroom.”