The Wraparound Guide: Using Student Voice to Improve Support Services for Students in Schools

Leigh Colburn and Linda Beggs are co-authors of The Wraparound Guide, a how-to handbook for helping students overcome barriers to wellness and learning, and co-founders of The Centergy Project, an education consulting organization based in Georgia, USA which supports school districts to incorporate wraparound services into their programming. Leigh is a career educator, community leader, and educational consultant, including experiences as an elementary school teacher and administrator, as well as a high school principal. Linda has worked in organizational development consulting for more than 30 years, collaborating with corporate, government, education, and nonprofit organization clients.

The Wraparound Guide, published in November, 2020, considers the following question: How can school leaders better support students? The co-authors, Leigh Colburn and Linda Beggs, argue that using student voice can help better inform educators and school leaders on how to improve their school system and service delivery through use of wraparound services. Wraparound service delivery is a team-based, collaborative case management approach to student and family support. In a wraparound approach, a team of professionals (e.g. educators, mental health workers) and key figures in a person’s life (e.g. family, community members, etc.) create, implement and monitor a plan of support. Such improvements can better address root causes of academic learning gaps and school-level challenges. Schools are often the hub where this coordination occurs and frequently the location where services are delivered.

To approach the student-centered design of wraparound services, school leaders can follow the Centergy Cycle, which uses a whole child approach within its methods, focusing on health, safety, family, and equitable access to services and resources. This can be visualized through the whole child roadmap.

The Centergy Cycle includes seven steps:

  1. Identify needs
  2. Establish priorities
  3. Identify resources
  4. Establish partnerships
  5. Secure funding
  6. Create your structure
  7. Connect students and families with services

Central to the methodology is seeking the trust of students, parents, educators, school leaders, and other partners, as well as seeking cross-sectoral partnerships. Fundamental to building this trust is the importance of listening to student voices and fostering student agency by using the information they share to improve the school. Using student voices can also help school leaders and educators to better understand what is happening in student’s lives.

Student voice can be shared using a variety of different methods, such as:

When engaging in conversations with students, we begin with ‘getting to know you’ questions that tap into their values, hopes, and sources of strength including:

  1. Why are you here today?
  2. What do you care about?
  3. What gives you hope?
  4. What helps you come back from something difficult?

These four questions allow us to connect at a deep level with each student as individuals; as such we also employ these questions in groups with students’ families and community members. These get to know you questions are often a helpful entry point in terms of determining what services they might need access to. We have included a few examples of student responses in the appendix so you can see their voices in action. Building off of this foundation, school leaders can then work with students to identify what types of behavioral and life skills they need to achieve their goal and search for non-school partner organizations that can support the school in meeting those needs.

The Wraparound Guide advocates using a motivational interviewing approach where a school leader acts as a coach, rather than attempting to fix a problem. Asking open-ended questions, demonstrating respect for students, listening carefully, and using third person pronouns, such as asking What are some of the reasons teens might skip school, rather than Why are you skipping school, all support building trust and focusing on student’s voices.

After gathering and understanding students’ needs and challenges, school leaders can engage in asset mapping to develop appropriate and targeted programming. This process requires leaders to review what services are available in the school and wider community which students can be referred to or that schools can partner with to address student needs and gaps in programming. These services and resources address a variety of themes within a given community, ranging from basic needs to health and wellness, academic opportunity, college and career transition, and safety and justice. We utilize the wraparound flower (seen here) and the asset map (in the appendix) as key resources for this process.

Developing strong partnerships require leaders who are good listeners, open-minded, risk-taking, curious, creative, asset-minded, realistic, collaborative, persistently optimistic, solution-oriented, and agile. When building a partnership, school leaders should also consider who they are willing and able to share staff, space, and/or money with. To examine the potential fit of partners, school leaders should create a shared mission, define goals and measurable indicators, define the roles and responsibilities of each partner, and determine a regular communication method and schedule.

Overall, to sustain wraparound services, school leaders should ensure the work remains relevant and grounded in student voice, navigate leadership changes and manage funding. In the wake of Covid-19, school leaders and educators need to have focused conversations with students to determine what is happening in their lives, what impact the pandemic has had on their friends, family, school, and learning, and determine what new hopes, dreams, concerns, and goals they have. These conversations can help educators establish realistic expectations, help students to navigate current events, and foster connection.

With schools opening up after the disruption created by COVID-19, Leigh and Linda are working with schools eager to address the many barriers exacerbated by school closures. They have also been invited to be the keynote speakers at the National Youth and Resiliency Conference in Savannah, Georgia March 6 – March 9, 2022.

To learn more about The Centergy Project and The Wraparound Guide, please visit: and 


Asset Map Example

Student Voice Examples