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Seeking School Applicants to Deepen their Capacity to Serve the Mental Health Needs of Students

Education Forward DC
Education Forward DC

Within our first five years, Education Forward DC aims to double the number of underserved students in DC who are college and career ready. In service of our goal, we recently announced our School Quality and Equity Strategy, a set of grants that complement the work of our Schools grant making by supporting visionary leaders tackling challenges around special education, school-based mental health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a means to significantly improve student learning experiences.

We define school-based mental health as encompassing three domains: social-emotional learning (SEL), trauma-informed practices, and clinical mental health services. Social-emotional learning is the process through which students and adults learn to manage themselves and interact with others. Trauma-informed practices are instructional practices aimed at building the relationships necessary to help students overcome the negative impacts of trauma. (Almost half of DC students have experienced a traumatic event, and nearly a quarter have experienced more than one.) Clinical mental health services provide supports for students who are experiencing behavioral health conditions. All three domains interact in the context of schools as adults build positive learning environments for students.

As part of our School Quality and Equity Strategy we are supporting the partnership between Cynthia Robinson-Rivers, principal of Van Ness Elementary School, and Transcend, a national nonprofit that leads in the research and design of new school models, as they work to refine and share a model for how schools can productively integrate mental health and social-emotional learning into the fabric of the school day.

At Van Ness Elementary School, Principal Robinson-Rivers is leading a powerful example of a whole child, whole school approach to education. Principal Robinson-Rivers has partnered with Transcend to sustain the schools’ model as enrollment grows to include fifth grade and to share the model with educators and school leaders across the city. Education Forward DC is supporting Transcend to design and lead a Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health Community of Practice for a group of 10 to 15 DC schools. Starting in February 2020, the 10-month experience will provide school leaders and their teams with the opportunity to develop their knowledge of the mental health needs of their school community, deepen their understanding of the learning science related to SEL and mental health, explore strong examples of well-designed whole child, whole school models, strengthen their vision of integrating student wellbeing into their school design, and create a plan of action for their own journey to adopting a whole child, whole school models. School leaders will be introduced to cutting edge learning science research, as well as regional and national SEL and mental health best practices. Learning opportunities will also include:

  • visits to Van Ness elementary and other local schools
  • three daylong convenings
  • webinars with experts in SEL and mental health
  • 1:1 check-ins with and resources from Transcend to support next steps in adoption of SEL practices or mental health supports

Applications to participate in the Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health Community of Practice will be available November 4th and are due December 4th. We are excited for this Community of Practice (CoP) to build momentum among school leaders whose school communities may in turn become examples of excellence in the city.

According to Principal Robinson-Rivers: “At Van Ness, we believe that engaging students in meaningful real-world experiences, offering opportunities for hands-on learning through projects, and explicitly teaching critical socio-emotional skills are just as important as our academic instruction. We hope to become a proof point to show that taking time to focus on the ‘whole child’ not only supports student learning, but is vital to their life-long success.”

In addition to the SEL and Mental Health CoP, our support will allow Transcend to develop learning experiences, coaching structures, and resources to support schools in DC, starting with those participating in the CoP, to launch pilots of the Van Ness model at their own campuses.

Government agencies, nonprofits, and student and parent members of our grantees Black Swan Academy and Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) recognize that supporting universal, preventative strategies that can address mental health and trauma for students will have a significant impact on their learning and life outcomes, and improve sustainability and mental health for educators, as well.

If you would like to learn more about the Community of Practice, please contact Kate Mehr at Transcend, at If you would like to learn more about our School Quality and Equity Strategy, or connect on work you’re doing in this area, please contact Shalini Shybut, Principal on our Schools and Human Capital grant making team, at

Education Forward DC
Education Forward DC

Every DC student deserves to thrive.