Now More Important Than Ever: One Year of the Advancing Whole-Learner Education Initiative

Students, educators, families, and school communities have weathered enormous challenges over the past year. From health, to housing, to food security, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated long-standing inequities across every aspect of our society, including in our education system. The impact of the pandemic, that fell disproportionately on those who already face systemic barriers to access and opportunity, made it clear that we need to break out of the antiquated, narrow notions of educational success. And we must do so now.  Leaders must reimagine the current system so that it works for all students;  focuses on policies and practices that center the whole learner; emphasizes the interconnectedness of students’ academic and cognitive skills with their social, emotional, physical, and creative development; and meets every student where they are. 

That’s why, in the summer of 2020 – with the generous support of the LEGO Foundation – America Forward launched the Advancing Whole-Learner Education Initiative, and published “Whole-Learner Education: A Policy Roadmap to Student Success,” which provided clear, actionable policy recommendations for how Federal policymakers can support the meaningful expansion of comprehensive, inclusive whole-learner approaches to education.

In the first year of the initiative – against the backdrop of an unprecedented pandemic that repeatedly reminded us that traditional education approaches simply don’t work for every learner or take into account how students  naturally learn – we made important progress advancing our whole-learner policy agenda. 




  • America Forward led a series of strategic collective advocacy efforts inclusive of our whole-learner approaches to education policy recommendations, with the Biden-Harris transition team, congressional offices, and with the U.S. Department of Education senior officials. Over the course of the year, we submitted letters and comments to Federal lawmakers aimed at lifting up whole-learner approaches in different pieces of Federal legislation. 


  • We created the Advancing Whole-Learner Education Initiative website, and began a robust communications effort to increase public awareness and understanding of whole-learner approaches, including several whole-learner op-eds in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Colorado during the 2020 presidential campaign, an op-ed in The Hill on SEL Day that accompanied a virtual federal briefing we co-hosted alongside leaders in the SEL field, and a social media campaign that generated more than 1 million impressions.


  • We led several “Advocacy Institute” trainings to help America Forward Coalition members build skills and capacity to advocate effectively with local, state, and federal policymakers and champion whole-learner approaches;   


And we’re just getting started. The importance of whole-learner approaches to education has only become more clear and more critical over the past year. America Forward will keep working with the members of the America Forward Coalition and our partners to lift up effective whole-learner approaches from communities around the country and advocate for greater Federal support for practices that seek to address the disproportional educational inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, that mirror the way students learn naturally, that support educators and engage families, and that help every student meet and overcome the challenges they face.  

Read more about this important work and sign up to receive our monthly Whole-Learner Education Insights Newsletter at If you have any questions, or to learn more about opportunities to engage in our whole-learner education work, please reach out to    

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