What’s the Best Way to Connect Students to Supports and Resources? Trustworthy Adults, Well-targeted Contact, and Meeting Students Where They Are
By: Onjila Odeneal and Manon Steel
We have a robust set of community partners who are on-the-ground experts in the needs and experiences of Michigan students. Their knowledge base is drawn from years of countless hours they spend building relationships and trust with their communities in Michigan and linking students and their families with the resources and information they need to thrive. This month, the TICAS Michigan team asked partners, “What is the best way to connect students to supports and resources”?
From their responses several key themes emerged:
- Students should be reached through trusted relationships. While school-based education professionals, especially teachers, mentors, or counselors, were highlighted as common options, other relationships within the community can also be effective.
- Contact and information should be well-targeted, understandable, easily actionable and delivered to students where they already are. Tailoring information to individual or groups of students, delivering it in the modalities (e.g. text, email, phone, in-persons) that work for them, and providing resources necessary for them to act on that information are key.
One contributor summarized these themes perfectly: “The best way to connect students is to use an approach that is multifaceted so that you can ensure you are inclusive of ways people prefer or have access to learn about supports and resources. Social media is a good way that would include having [Linktree] in the bios. Also connecting students through their trusted support systems — informing mentors, family, peers so they can spread the message.” — Anonymous
For TICAS Michigan, developing effective policies requires listening to concerns raised by stakeholders and adapting policies to address them. Going forward, we will keep these best practices in mind as we advocate for smart investments in student success. See more about what we heard directly from those who are working with students every day below!
Relationships with Trustworthy Adults
Trustworthy adults who already have or can build consistent relationships with students and families are critical to effective outreach and connection. Jody Maloney states, “Have a human being, who they’ve met at least once, before they need to access support and resources, serve to help students navigate and connect them to that support and resources. Students need to have the security of knowing [that,] no matter what, they’ve got someone on their team who wants to help.” Another contributor concurred, emphasizing that the best way to support students is “[through] trusted connections with people they already have.”
Others expressed the range of roles these trusted adults can take. “The best ways to connect students to support and resources comes from them learning about it from people that they trust. Those could be school leaders, community representatives, family (immediate and extended), CBOs, afterschool programs, etc.”
Many of our partners responded by specifically identifying education professionals as being uniquely positioned to connect students with support and resources. Dr. Ezella McPherson specifies, “Each secondary school and postsecondary institution can identify a point person, that is a caring and supportive K-12 professional, postsecondary representative, and/or trade school representative to easily provide students with support and resources to help students transition to the postsecondary pathway of their choice, which may be college, trade school, a gap year, or even employment.”
Another response reiterates the importance of educational professionals in postsecondary as well as K-12 education. “I think that the best way would be to either connect with the resources on campus providing similar supports so that they can send students your way when they have them, or to have a connection person on the campus that can get the information on what you offer out there.”
Susan Sawyer notes that for those who are working with students while based in community (not an educational setting) it is important to build your own relationships with these professionals in order to reach students. She says, “Go to Staff meetings to inform the people that interact the most with students and many times the students’ mentors, the Teachers 😊”.
Others were even more specific, acknowledging the ways counselors most consistently fulfill the role as connector. Michele Strasz puts it simply and directly that we can best connect students with critical help “through their school counselors and college advisers.” Another contributor confirmed “I believe students are trusting of their counselors and advisors when it comes to resources.”
Stephanie Iovan noted that there are currently limits to counselor effectiveness due to the high student to counselor ratio in Michigan (671: 1). She states, “One of the best ways to connect students to support and resources is by increasing the counselor to student ratio in schools so they can provide adequate support.”
Brendan Cantwell concurs with the potential limitations counselors and other advisors may face due to overwhelming caseloads. He says, “Professional advisors with experience and extensive knowledge and who do not have an overwhelming caseload are probably the best linking tools. But more resources for students are needed. We can expand advising but also need to make sure that advisors can point students to resources that will make a difference.”
Well-targeted Outreach & Understandable Language
Brendan also notes that another key way to improve the quality of interactions is to ensure that the outreach and support is well-targeted and specific. Matthew Clayton states “I think targeted outreach goes a long way in connecting the students to the right opportunities.”
What does targeted outreach look like? It means curating the information for the particular audience, approaching the information as a process rather than an event, and meeting students where they are at, both mentally and physically.
In terms of curating information, multiple respondents, including Amanda Said, Reese Drilling, and Jeffrey Thornton make the following recommendations.
“Text messaging from adults they have trust in.” — Anonymous
“[It] may also be advantageous to provide the information directly to the students via email, text message, postal mail, or even social media.” — Anonymous
“Curation of information and repetition. Even when there are ample resources, many students need support navigating them and understanding when and how to use tools, resources, etc. We leverage our coaches, who “curate” the information for the student — walking them through content, providing context, answering questions, following up, and encouraging deeper exploration. And the coaches do this every time they meet with students. This curation and repetition helps demystify the network of resources for students that might not know where to begin.” — Amanda Said
“Creating a resource repository comprising multiple different modes of dissemination. Providing students with a set of robust versions of the same information contributes to creating space for all scholars with an array of circumstances to strategically navigate the postsecondary landscape in a ‘way’ that already aligns with how they experience and move through the world. This building upon a pre-existing sensory-focused foundation that can translate into applicable career/Post Secondary skills.” — Reese Drilling
“Working directly with school administrators, teachers, special education specialists and coaches to gain insight into student needs and then design individualized learning acceleration to assist them in reaching their academic goals.” — Jeffrey Thornton
Targeted outreach and the relationships formed between students, education professionals, and community members are even more impactful when connections to resources are treated as a process rather than an event. For example, an Anonymous contributor suggests “Build relationships with contacts at your referral/support resource + build trust with your students. Make introductions/warm handoffs to referrals. Follow up with students to ensure the connection was successful.” Another says “A trusted person takes them to the resource (transport) and makes introductions. Follow up later on how it felt, if it’s a good fit, any barriers to continuing with the resource.”
Another respondent expands on this further. “One way to connect students with resources is with a ‘warm hand-off’. It’s worth it to foster contacts with community organizations that offer critical services, and connect individual students directly with the contact person rather than saying ‘call or visit XYZ organization’. Lean on resources that already exist in the student’s community — like nearby food pantries, or resources on the student’s college campus, especially. Some colleges have Basic Needs Centers where students can go to find any help they need (such as help with applying for SNAP). There are often other students there who are providing services, or getting services themselves.”
Meeting Students Where They Are
Finally, we heard from many respondents how critical it is to meet students where they are at. As Kayla Hurse puts it, “Students in my community prioritize trust for those who seek to enter their spaces in any capacity. In my experience, initiating introductions and facilitating opportunities for relationship building with the organizations or programs that provide a support or resource proves beneficial.” Another contributor echoes this: “The best way to connect students to support and resources is to meet them where they are; this means being aware of where they spend their time, be it social media and/or where they are hanging physically when studying/in school. There is a lot of competition for student time and attention so you need a presence where they are, in my opinion.”
Others make suggestions to the best places to connect with students. Chella Bluth-Rosenberg, an Anonymous contributor, Shelah Amburgey, and Terrell Topps make the following suggestions for entering spaces to connect with students.
“Community spaces / social hang outs (churches, basketball courts, parks…)” — Chella Bluth-Rosenberg
“Group setting where they get to engage. Incentives work well too, such as a gift card.” — Shelah Amburgey
“Consistent engagement and transportation options: Uber, Lyft, Bus tickets. For example: partnerships with Uber, Lyft giving waivers and or reductions…” — Terrell Topps
Of course, all of this advice intersects and the ultimate best practice is to combine them in work with students as highlighted beautifully below.
“A wrap-around approach is key when connecting students to support and resources. An approach that invites community partners, schools, families, and most importantly the students to work together to develop assets in youth. Teaching coping skills, resilience tools, and fostering a mindset that empowers students to forge their own path builds a pathway to a thriving future. The role adults play in the lives of youth is key. Providing educators, parents and caregivers, religious community members, community organizations, and any youth serving and connecting entity with development for their adult to thrive will in turn impact the youth of a community. Quick answers of technology-based resources are helpful, but we learn and grow through relationships. Study upon study shows that at every stage of our lives, relationships are important. Helping adults foster true connections with youth will create an environment for youth to grow in their confidence and courageously embrace their future. You are the key to their future. Challenge yourself to consider what role you play in the life of a young person.” — Sarah Weisbarth.