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Social emotional support helps students to recover and thrive

The release this fall of the latest Nation’s Report Card confirms what educators, parents and students already know: the COVID-19 pandemic has had a damaging impact on student academic achievement over the past three school years.

According to the recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), proficiency in math and English dropped precipitously for both fourth and eighth graders between 2019 and 2022, falling to levels not seen for two decades. We agree with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona when he calls the data “an urgent call to action” for all of us to address.

The case for providing social emotional support for all students

But the math and reading results don’t tell the whole story and without a fuller picture, we can’t find solutions or make progress. While demonstrating great resilience, creativity and tenacity, students have also experienced loss and confusion. To put it plainly, students’ grades and test scores won’t improve unless we address their holistic needs—academic, social and emotional.

Fortunately, there are existing programs—from tutoring to mentoring to student success coaching and more—that have proven track records of success.

City Year provides social emotional support

These services are available just as schools have access to an unprecedented amount of pandemic recovery funds from the federal government to support additional capacity in schools. And yet we know that most schools and districts aren’t sure where or how to spend it for maximum impact.

So far this year, school systems around the country reported spending just 15% of their American Rescue Plan funds, also called ESSER III, leaving literally billions of dollars that students, teachers and schools need on the table.

A new partnership announced at the White House this past summer, the National Partnership for Student Success, can help educators and schools offer additional support to students right now—and these evidence-based supports all meet the requirements to receive federal funding. City Year is proud to be part of NPSS alongside other leading youth-serving organizations. City Year serves as a “technical assistance partner” offering guidance and materials to schools and districts interested in starting student success coaching in their local community.

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Learn why City Year and MENTOR believe relationships are key to students’ recovery.

Caring for student mental health and well-being

Experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say students have lost ground not only academically, but have also lost some important social emotional skills and their mental health has suffered.

Why does this matter so much when we’re talking about student success and ensuring students get back on track? Because research and experience working with young people clearly show that teaching and learning are inherently social and emotional processes, grounded in human relationships. Students learn best when they feel connected, cared for, and confident.


Explore the report A Nation at Hope and research from the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) to learn more about the intertwined nature of academic, social and emotional growth.

The path forward: Providing holistic supports to students in school

The troubling NAEP scores combined with new information about student mental health tell us three things:

  • Addressing just instructional loss will not be enough to help our students, teachers and schools recover and, ultimately, thrive. Their holistic well-being must also be tended to.
  • More schools will need more holistic supports than ever before to help students regain lost ground, reconnect to their school community, and set and reach their goals.
  • The magnitude of the challenge underscores the fact that schools cannot and should not have to do this work alone.

We already know teachers and principals want additional supports in their schools such as student success coaches who serve as near-peer tutors, mentors and role models—another caring, consistent adult in schools who students can turn to.

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Learn how City Year AmeriCorps members, serving as student success coaches, help to improve student outcomes academically, socially and emotionally and in terms of attendance.

Educators have told us directly, in conversations, through surveys and through their trust in us to deliver services to their students, that evidence-based services delivered by trained and caring adults make a huge difference to students, classroom teachers and the whole school community, especially during the pandemic period.

Accessing evidence-based school and student supports

With the launch this year of the National Partnership for Student Success, schools across the country now have access to information, resources and guidance on five kinds of student supports they can choose from, depending on their needs.

These supports are grounded in research and have shown positive results for students all across the country, including gains in reading and math, high school and college graduation rates, reductions in chronic absenteeism, and improved student well-being and mental health.

The NPSS’s five student support categories are:

  1. Postsecondary/college transition coaching: support exposure to postsecondary education options, college search and application processes, financial aid applications and navigating transitions.
  2. Student success coaching: trained, diverse AmeriCorps members partner with classroom teachers to build positive relationships with students and provide social, emotional and academic supports to students and contribute to positive learning environments.
  3. High-impact academic tutoring: one-on-one or small group instruction toward a specific goal that supplements students’ classroom experiences.
  4. High-quality mentors: facilitate youth development and enrichment experiences including school-to-work transitions and identity exploration and formation.
  5. Wraparound or integrated student support coordinators: help schools build strong connections with community health, mental health, and social service providers to help students and their families.

City Year and our partners collaborate to support student recovery

At a time when schools and educators across the country want and need more supports for their students—and have access to $122 billion in federal funds for this additional capacity—the National Partnership for Student Success offers evidence- based services and programs that can help students re-engage with their learning after a period of disruption and loss.

Our students, teachers, student success coaches and other adults who work with young people have all shown tremendous perseverance and dedication during this challenging time. We can help to turn math and reading proficiency levels around and ensure that this talented generation gets the support they need and deserve to graduate with the skills and experiences they need to succeed, in college, career and life.

Learn more about how you can become involved in the National Partnership for Student Success or find out more from technical assistance providers at the NPSS Hub at Johns Hopkins University.

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