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Philanthropist Priscilla Chan Stresses Students Well-Being


    Priscilla Chan, co-founder and co-CEO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), discussed the importance of centering the well-being of students and educators at the Council of the Great City Schools’ virtual 65th Annual Fall Conference.

    In her address to urban educators, Chan discussed the obstacles and challenges students and educators have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained that students across the country have experienced simultaneous disruptions to their learning, relationships, and sense of safety.

    “We know that urban schools were amongst the hardest hit — as black, brown, and indigenous communities endured the simultaneous crisis of health, racial discrimination, and economic uncertainty,” said Chan.

    Despite these challenges, she noted that students and educators have shown extraordinary resilience and prove that there is no better time than now to focus not only on academic development but also on their well-being.  

    As a pediatrician and former teacher, Chan witnessed how students' academic success and well-being are intertwined. She explained to attendees, “we need to focus on a whole-child approach to education.” Using this approach, she founded The Primary School, which brings together all adults in a child’s life, including parents, educators, medical and mental health providers.

    She cited Van Ness Elementary School, a public school in Washington, D.C., that has been focused on building a sense of safety and belonging in its student body in a number of ways, such as providing mentorship, nutrition, and daily community building between students and educators. Even when the school had to turn to virtual learning in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic the school continued to prioritize the holistic needs of their students. 

    “What I find most special about Van Ness isn’t that their curriculum is raising student outcomes across multiple data points though it is,” said Chan. “It’s also raising teacher retention as well. This tells us that the whole child approach doesn’t only help students thrive, it ensures that the entire community does as well.”

    She noted the work of CZI and their collaboration with teachers, researchers, product developers, and students to build tools that enable educators to engage students better and support their well-being. 

    In closing, Chan said that the past 18 months have been filled with heartache but also undeniable resilience and that the well-being of students and educators need to be actively supported. She urged educators to ensure that every student has strong and supportive relationships and to continue investing in innovative strategies and technologies that help educators, in turn, help their students feel seen, heard, and valued, as a member of the school community.

    “Let’s do everything we can to involve not only students, but parents and those that care for them in school decisions,” said Chan.