Brian Webster has become a talented reader of faces.
As site coordinator for Anton Grdina Elementary School in the Kinsman neighborhood, he sees hundreds of students and parents every day. Like anyone else, they have good days and bad, the emotional residue of which show up in their expressions and general demeanors: purposeful strides on good days, slumped shoulders and tired eyes on bad.
But one parent, a mother of two in her early 20s, kept catching his eye. She never smiled. Not even once.
“She came around a lot, dropping off her kids or picking them up, and I could tell she was unhappy,” Webster says.
Experience told him not to ask her directly what was wrong — at least not right away. He knew such questioning could be viewed as intrusive. Instead, he simply made sure to be around a lot when she came by, in case she ever wanted to talk.
He also gave her two sons plenty of attention. He praised them for consistent attendance, joined them for lunches in the cafeteria, made sure they had access to tutoring when they needed it.
After a few months, the mother finally approached him.
“You’re the bald-headed man my kids are always talking about, right?” she asked. “They tell me they like coming to school because of you.”
She introduced herself as Dianna Hogue, and told him she lived at the public housing estate nearby.
After a few more casual interactions, she began to confide in Webster — including that she’d recently lost her mother to cancer. At 23, Hogue felt alone in the world, bereft of the support from the woman she considered her closest friend and ally.
“It was a lot, to watch my mother pass away,” Hogue says. “I was used to being with her all the time, and when she passed I became a mean person.”
She continues to struggle emotionally, but her guarded veneer has lifted. She credits not just Webster but the school’s whole staff.
“I don’t even know what they do, but when I step in here it’s a different vibe,” she says. “The school changed me as a person. I talk more.”
Hogue’s trust in Webster and the school bore even greater fruit later that year, when Hogue’s apartment was destroyed in a building-wide fire. Webster visited her on the day it happened, and helped connect her with agencies that provided donated clothing, furniture, and toiletries.
“You never know when and how your presence is going to help,” Webster says. “That’s how I see my job — just being around and being real.”
Measuring the impact of the wraparound program is a complex task. It is tempting to gauge success solely or primarily on academic outcomes for students. However, while improved academics are certainly an overarching goal, other measures provide more informative short-term barometers of success.
“We know though from decades of research that you don’t get to better graduation rates and higher test scores if you don’t first tackle some of what we call the leading indicators,” says Eric Gordon of CMSD.
Cleveland’s wraparound strategy has four main goals, with specific data measurements attached (see below). Overall, since the wraparound program began in 2013, schools have seen substantial improvement across these measures. Just as importantly, the gap between wraparound and non-wraparound schools has narrowed significantly. This means that students in wraparound schools are less likely to fall behind their peers in academic achievement.
1. Students attend school every day on-time and ready to learn
Students cannot learn if they are not present in class. Therefore, one of the wraparound strategy’s central focuses is to make sure students and families have what they need to make the daily trip to school. This could mean providing warm clothing to children or helping families remove other barriers such as transportation or child care.
Since the current wraparound strategy began, student attendance in wraparound schools has risen, particularly at the high school level. Among wraparound high schools, daily attendance increased to 92.3 percent in 2018, compared with 81 percent in 2013. The attendance rate at K–8 schools, meanwhile, improved slightly — to 90.4 percent in 2018, compared with 90 percent in 2013.
Also indicative of students’ presence and ability to learn are decreases in chronic absenteeism, or the proportion of students missing 10 or more days per school year. Again, wraparound high schools posted a dramatic improvement in this area, with absenteeism falling to 26.1 percent in 2018 from 62.4 percent in 2013. Wraparound K-8 schools saw a more modest improvement over the same time period, to 35.7 percent from 37.2 percent.
2. Students are actively involved in learning and their community
Students must also have favorable “conditions for learning” in order to achieve academic success. When students perceive their school environments positively, they are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to remain engaged in their studies. To gauge these perceptions, CMSD regularly surveys students on four measures: safety, support from adults (i.e., teachers and faculty), academic challenge, and perceptions of peers’ social and emotional learning skills. Wraparound schools have seen Improvement across all four measures, as shown in the following graphs:
3. Families and communities increase involvement in children’s education, and
4. Schools are engaged with families and communities
Family and community engagement are also priorities of the wraparound strategy. Without the support and presence of their families and communities, students are unlikely to perform to the best of their academic abilities. Family and community engagement is measured in two ways. The first is the number of school-hosted family and community programs (such as food markets and activities linked to student learning); the second is the number of participants who attended those programs. On both measures, wraparound schools have seen dramatic increases since the strategy began. The number of events rose to more than 600 in 2017–18, from just 37 in 2012–13 before wraparound began. Meanwhile, the number of participants in those events rose to nearly 24,000, an 18-fold increase since 2012–13.
The community wraparound strategy has started to produce promising academic results. Among the indicators where wraparound students are showing academic progress are the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, K-3 Literacy, and the high school graduation rate.
At the K–8 level, Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a program to identify students from kindergarten through grade 3 who are behind in reading. The past five years have shown improvement in the number of wraparound third graders passing the test and moving to 4th grade. Schools showing impressive numbers include Kenneth Clement Boys’ Leadership Academy, with 100 percent of 3rd graders passing the test two years in a row (2016–17 and 2017–18); Fullerton School of Academics, showing a 47 percent increase in the number of students passing the test since 2013; and Michael R. White Elementary School, with a 19 percent increase since 2013.
K–3 Literacy looks at whether schools are successfully helping students move to reading proficiency in 3rd grade and beyond. Many wraparound schools saw improvements in K–3 literacy over the past five years. Schools showing impressive gains in this area include Fullerton School of Academics (15.7 percent gain in on-track students), Luis Muñoz Marin School (13.3 percent gain) and Mound STEM (10.6 percent gain). Adlai Stevenson School moved from a D to a C and Kenneth Clement Boys’ Leadership Academy moved from a C to B in K–3 literacy on the 2017–18 state report card.
Students who graduate high school are not only more likely to attain financial security than their than peers who do not graduate, they are also more likely to avoid incarceration and poverty. In 2013, the graduation rate at wraparound schools was just 57 percent, compared with nearly 78 percent at non-wraparound schools. By 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, wraparound schools posted a graduation rate of 60 percent, compared with the non-wraparound rate of 79 percent.
It is important to note, once again, the context of these changes: specifically, that wraparound schools started at dramatically lower graduation rates at the outset of the initiative and therefore had (and still have) a much greater gap to close.
In addition to these quantitative measures, it is important to remember that qualitative stories from individual students — such as those included in this report — in many ways paint the most vivid picture of the wraparound strategy’s impact.
“Wraparound is definitely a strategy that makes things happen that wouldn’t ordinarily occur,” one principal said. Before wraparound, in the words of another, “we might have told parents to go find services, but now we have services come to the parent.” That often means the difference between a family receiving help and forgoing it due to lack of accessibility.