What happens when a student needs more than academic support to be successful in school? What if she has physical or mental health needs, is experiencing food insecurity, lacks stable housing, or her guardian is incarcerated? What if she simply needs – but cannot afford – a pair of glasses?
As a physics teacher at Houston ISD’s Kashmere High School, Adeeb Barqawi came face-to-face with these types of needs. He turned first to the school counselor for help.
“The counselor was overwhelmed,” said Barqawi. “She just had a deck of business cards in her drawer. There was no coordination on how to access these services, … no way to identify who needs help in a proactive way.”
This gave him an idea.
In 2014, he founded ProUnitas and began the initial development of a system for teachers, school-based social workers and counselors to better coordinate a wide range of supports – known as “wraparound services.”
“The system helps answer the questions, What services exist? Which services are available in which schools? Which students need which services?” said Barqawi. “We can’t do this without the common denominator of data.”
In 2016, ProUnitas received an investment from Houston Endowment to pilot the early-stage system in six schools and to further develop the technology into what would come to be called “PURPLE.”
“We don’t have a typical grantor-grantee relationship,” said Barqawi. “Houston Endowment pushes us for continuous improvement. … Houston Endowment took a risk on us.”
The pilot delivered promising results: 90 percent of teachers at schools with PURPLE said they now know what to do when a student presents a need beyond what the teacher can offer. School social workers and counselors reported a more than 50 percent reduction in their busywork, thus freeing them up to spend more time with students and families.
This caught the attention of HISD leadership.
After being approached by HISD, Houston Endowment commissioned Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to come up with a comprehensive plan to provide wraparound services to all HISD students. To do so, BCG engaged dozens of school leaders through focus groups and surveys, conducted over 20 interviews with local civic, community, and education stakeholders, and reviewed existing school data to deeply understand the challenges faced in meeting the full needs of students. BCG also examined promising practices from 11 local and national wraparound service programs to provide inspiration for a potential solution.
The work culminated in a set of recommendations and a detailed plan to assist HISD in implementing and scaling wraparound services. Two of the recommendations of BCG’s 2017 report were creating a district-level wraparound services department and adopting a technology platform to help schools better match services with students. PURPLE fit the bill.
Now, thanks to a federal grant of more than $2 million, approximately 50 high-need HISD campuses have dedicated wraparound specialists using PURPLE for their students’ benefit.
“[Without] the support of the Endowment, we wouldn’t have been able to move as rapidly or have had as good a plan to roll out [wraparound services] throughout the district,” said Rudy Trevino, assistant superintendent and head of HISD’s wraparound services department, established per the BCG report’s recommendation.
In addition to making connections between service providers and students in need, PURPLE helps illuminate trends – at the district, school and individual student levels – that can indicate where and what kind of services are needed. A needs assessment from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, also commissioned by the Foundation, is also being used to guide the allocation of social services across the school district.
“Having the Endowment jumpstart this in the city has been really important,” said Trevino. “This was uncharted territory. Now we have created a demand for addressing the basic needs of our community.”
Trevino hopes to expand wraparound services to 120 HISD schools in the 2018 – 2019 school year.
Barqawi hopes to expand PURPLE throughout Houston’s many school districts.
“We’re excited [to see] where this is going to go with other districts,” he said. “There are 1 million kids living in greater Houston. What we’re doing here could be a template for the entire nation.”
“Houston Endowment likes to invest in things that are a win-win-win. They’re systemically investing. They’re looking for a win for children, a win for the system and a win for grantees.”
Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO, ProUnitas
Houston Endowment Investment in Wraparound Services (partial): ProUnitas: $415,000 (2016), Baker Institute at Rice University: $480,000 (2016)