In 2003, Sabine Parish — a poor, low-performing school district in rural Louisiana — hired Dorman Jackson as uperintendent because of his reputation for raising test
scores. He instituted a remedial-learning program to catch and
treat learning problems early, and soon, students’ academic
performance started to rise.
But at a certain point, that trajectory halted. “We discovered
we had carried our kids about as far as we could,” says Jackson.
After speaking with the district’s student assessment and
support services department, he learned more about why:
Many of these students faced significant personal roadblocks
that prevented them from doing well in school, including
overworked or absent parents, emotional problems, and drug
and alcohol abuse.
That’s when Jackson’s staff suggested that the school work
with psychologists Howard Adelman, PhD, and Linda Taylor,
PhD, who co-direct the University of California, Los Angeles,
School Mental Health Project and the federally funded National
Center for Mental Health in Schools. They had developed a
model called “the enabling component” — also referred to
as “learning supports” by schools, districts and other entities
that implement it. It targets the psychosocial and educational
barriers to student success.
The model does that in two ways. First, it aims to consolidate
and coordinate student and learning supports — the counseling
services, school prevention and intervention programs,
and community resources that tend to be fragmented and
uncoordinated at many schools. Second, the model offers
interventions to address barriers to learning and teaching, such
as bringing support staff directly into the classroom to work with
kids, and making better connections with and use of community
resources to help struggling children and their families.
The approach appears to be working in Sabine Parish: From
2007 and 2010, graduation rates rose from 73 percent to 81. 2
percent. In addition, of the state’s 60 districts, Sabine has gone
from 37th in 2003 to 14th this year in academic performance.
Jackson doesn’t think the school could have gotten there
How the model works
without the psychological and social support the enabling
component model provided. “I have appreciated gaining the
knowledge that when a kid is having a problem in their family
or with themselves,” Jackson says, “they’re not going to be
successful unless you fix that problem.”
Now, the UCLA team is taking its work nationwide, holding
forums for educational and policy leaders in 13 states and
helping implement the program at the state, district and school
Adelman and Taylor’s enabling component model was developed
after 30 years of research and observation in their lab school
at UCLA and in the Los Angeles public schools. Through their
work, Adelman and Taylor observed two trends. For one, they
saw that pulling at-risk students out of class to be counseled,
punished or suspended for aggressive behaviors or bullying
interfered with their peer relationships and academic progress.
The psychologists discovered that keeping these children in
stimulating, supportive classrooms helped them to stop acting
out, learn and share their own unique gifts with other kids.
Second, Adelman and Taylor noticed an enormous
redundancy in schools’ mental health and social services. When
they developed a program to prevent school dropout, for
instance, “we soon realized that at some school sites, we were
one of 15 similar programs that were trying to address risky
behaviors,” Taylor says.
As they continued to see these phenomena play out in school
and after school, it became clear the system needed an overhaul,
Adelman says. “We thought there had to be a way to bring all of
this together — not just to coordinate programs, but to really
develop a major intervention framework,” he says.
Their “enabling component” encourages school action in six
1. Making innovative changes to classroom instruction.
That includes bringing support personnel into the classroom,
rather than taking children out of class when their behavior
or inattention may have gotten out of control. It also calls for
revamping teaching and intervention methods to help teachers
handle problems more easily and effectively.
2. Supporting children through transitions. Not only are
children moving back and forth from school to home and from
one school level to the next, many are also coping with family
disruptions, such as a divorce.
3. Connecting families to schools and school activities.
This includes offering basic parenting classes, fostering more
meetings between parents and teachers and involving families
in homework projects, field trips and other activities.
4. Maximizing use of community resources. Developing and
maintaining strong connections with community resources can
greatly enhance schools’ capacity to support these youngsters.
Entities to tap include public and private agencies, colleges and
universities, businesses, artists and cultural institutions, faith-based organizations and volunteer groups.
5. Reorganizing crisis assistance and prevention. Schools
need systems that can respond quickly and effectively in the
wake of any crisis, whether it is a natural disaster, a terrorist
attack or student acting in a way that endangers others. Schools
must also create safe and caring learning environments that
deal preemptively with disruptive and potentially dangerous
behavior such as bullying and harassment.
6. Improving links to external mental health and
behavioral services. When internal resources aren’t enough,
schools should be able to refer students and families to mental
health and financial assistance services in a timely fashion.
The framework also emphasizes the need to build students’
sense of competence, self-determination and connections with
others, rather than punishing them for “bad” behavior, says
Taylor. “It’s a new way of thinking about how to deal with at-