Success in the 21st century is increasingly defined more broadly than academic achievement alone. Experts across fields and sectors have long agreed that social and emotional skills are critical ingredients for success. Recent research now presents compelling evidence that emotional intelligence and character skills such as “grit” may be just as important for life success as traditional cognitive intelligence.
Youth spend 80% of their time outside of structured schooling environments, and yet an overwhelming majority of support for youth is built into the school day. Despite the fact that most educational resources are funneled through schools, we often look outside the classroom for places where youth can meaningfully connect and engage in learning about themselves and the world.
At SCE, we’re interested in enriching the informal environments where young people encounter learning opportunities in order to build a more robust pipeline for youth development. After-school programs and leaders have the potential to maximize young people’s social and emotional growth through interest-driven activities in structured, challenging, and engaging environments.
Research has suggested that participation in out of school programs has the potential to keep teens connected to positive role models and engaged in their education at a time when many are beginning to disconnect. Additionally, there is ample evidence demonstrating that kids experience higher levels of motivation and concentration in afterschool programming than anywhere else.
However not all informal learning environments are tapping into the opportunities for cultivating social and emotional skill building with youth. Studies show that intentional programs with SEL practices baked into their design have positive impacts on youth that far outsize the impact of programs with no explicit focus on SEL.
Our work focuses on demystifying the ingredients of effectively helping youth build social and emotional skills by learning from the best—expert practitioners— and sharing their strategies with youth serving professionals across fields and sectors.
The teenage years present a critical “turnaround” period for re-engaging disconnected youth. During this phase, young people’s brains are developing so rapidly and expansively that adolescence is now considered to be one of the most pivotal stages of development. Studies show that even youth showing persistent problem behaviors regain “traction” with the appropriate support and attention.
Despite these opportunities, there are very few scaled, sustainable efforts focused on social and emotional learning for teens. Following the wisdom that intervening at later ages produces a lower return on investment, most SEL initiatives have focused efforts on elementary and middle school youth. As a result, the most coordinated interventions for teens tend to center harm and risk reduction approaches, leaving social and emotional support at best a secondary concern. SCE focuses on teens to address these white spaces, and to signal a need for greater development in these areas.
There is a disconnect between the demands required for life success and the limited support our education system offers to help youth prepare to meet those demands. We know that pockets of impact and effectiveness exist and have sustained despite the fragmented education system, but not enough of the most vulnerable youth have access to these high quality social and emotional learning experiences. Our strategies in the Social and Emotional Learning Program attempt to bring innovations and expertise into conversation with each other across fields to increase the scale of positive impact on youth.