By Sam Piha
Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) announced that they are expanding their partnership with WINGS for Kids in order to promote SEL related skills among their youth.
Richard Martinez, superintendent of PUSD, stated, “By continuing our collaboration, we are able to utilize WINGS’ expertise and build upon the strengths of our staff and our high-quality afterschool programming to help our students develop critical skills they need to succeed in school and in life.”
In addition to its partnership with PUSD, WINGS serves more than 1,100 students from vulnerable communities in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina through a direct-service afterschool program model of their research-based curriculum led by college students, known as WINGS Leaders.
To learn more about the WINGS approach, we invited Julia Rugg, WINGS’ Chief Strategy Officer, to serve as a guest blogger. Below, we offer part one of her two-part post.
WINGS Works! How Our Afterschool SEL Model Leads to Success
By Julia Rugg
Report after report tells us that too many kids in low-resource neighborhoods fare worse in overall education and life outcomes than their peers in higher-resourced areas. And while we know that social-emotional skills help narrow this tragic gap, we also know that classroom teachers often do not have the time, resources, or training to focus directly on helping students develop social-emotional skills during the regular school day.
WINGS for Kids believes that afterschool programs are well-positioned to address this educational gap by directly teaching social-emotional skills like self-awareness and responsible decision-making. We see both value and opportunity in using the hours after school to help teach these critical skills to our most vulnerable kids—the students who need them most.
The forthcoming results of our own randomized control trial, or RCT—the first such in-depth study on SEL in the afterschool space—corroborate what other research has shown: quality afterschool programs that focus on social and emotional learning have a significant positive impact on students in and out of the classroom. This is especially true for children living in low-resource neighborhoods, who typically are academically behind their peers, and for whom the bulk of the school day is spent working hard to close that achievement gap, with little time in the day to teach and practice skills beyond math, reading, and writing.
In WINGS schools, we take advantage of the flexibility that afterschool offers to not only teach social-emotional skills, but use the additional time it affords for kids to practice them and apply them in social and academic settings.
Our program model is influenced by research from Joseph A. Durlak and Roger P. Weissberg that tells us afterschool programs aligned with four evidence-based best practices—sequenced, active, focused, and explicit, or SAFE—have greater effects on student outcomes. To that end, we’ve aligned WINGS to the SAFE framework to ensure we are infusing intentionality throughout our activities and our curriculum.
We leverage the power of relationships in the afterschool space to help kids learn, practice, and internalize social-emotional skills. WINGS Leaders—college-aged mentors—work with small groups, called nests, of 10-12 kids. This personalized instruction, led by young people with backgrounds similar to those of our kids, have a relevance and impact that teacher-led activities sometimes don’t.
Our Evidence and Growth
Our data supports what we see each day: what kids learn in the hours after school influences their actions and behavior inside the classroom. Our aforementioned RCT study shows that WINGS reduces kids’ negative classroom behaviors and increases their positive classroom behaviors. Our programming also helps kids name positive behaviors, develop the vocabulary to talk about their emotions, and better regulate their behavior, both inside and outside the classroom.
Internal data from our programs in Charleston, S.C., also shows that WINGS kids are less likely to be chronically absent from school and less likely to receive a disciplinary referral compared to their peers—key predictors of academic success and graduating from high school.
With this research in hand, we know that WINGS works—and we want to bring SEL to more of the kids who need it most. Through our direct-service programs in Charleston, S.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta, Ga., WINGS gives more than 1,000 students in grades K-5 the life lessons they need to succeed and be happy, and help them thrive despite the challenges they face every day.
This year, we’re also expanding our partnership model to all schools in Pomona (Calif.) Unified School District by training and coaching providers and staff to integrate SEL into the district’s long-standing and award-winning afterschool program, The Learning Connection. As a result, more than 1,700 kids in Pomona will be able to develop social-emotional skills to prepare them for success in school and in life.
At WINGS, we envision a world where there is equity in academics, opportunity, and emotional well-being for all children regardless of socioeconomic status. That’s why we work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to access high-quality afterschool programming, caring adults and mentors, and social and emotional learning. By bringing these pieces together, along with research and through an evidence-based model, a program like WINGS has the power and potential to close the gaps that can prevent America’s most vulnerable kids from soaring to success.
Julia Rugg is the Chief Strategy Officer at WINGS for Kids. Since July 2011 she has launched WINGS’ expansion efforts across the southeast with the CEO, and worked alongside the senior team to ensure the WINGS model has been replicated with fidelity and quality. She evaluates current and future growth opportunities for WINGS, develops partner relationships, and builds the necessary internal infrastructure and resources necessary to support growth.
The modern afterschool movement was built around the concept of "all": all youth deserve expanded learning opportunities; all youth have common needs for developmental support and opportunities. This notion of "all" was an improvement over the idea of "some": afterschool programs designed to serve "those kids" or "at-risk kids".
While afterschool programs are designed to serve all youth, we have learned over the years that the social context that youth experience are very important to acknowledge and, in some cases, design specific activities. We are seeing programs designed for girls, programs for boys, as well as ones for youth of color, undocumented youth, and LGBTQ youth. We think this is essential to our efforts to promote critical social emotional skills.
The Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) dedicated their latest edition to serving the needs of women and girls of color in expanded learning, influenced by the Sisters Inspiring Change project. We encourage our readers to check this out.
Below is an excerpt from an interview we did with Lynn Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of Spotlight: Girls, an afterschool and summer program that educates, inspires and activates girls to take center stage. They promote the skills to step into the light and become the leaders we’ve all been waiting for.
Gender-based programs are so important because we are not often looking at where inequity comes in, in terms of gender in our schools and our communities. I think the most important thing in serving girls in afterschool is to really focus on giving girls their own space in afterschool.
I get worried when we focus too much on girls in STEM and not on their emotional experience and the skills they need to succeed in any field. "How do I, as a girl, in a safe space, understand who I am, understand why I might be feeling resistant to new experiences, why I might be resistant to certain fields of learning, and understand how to move through those areas of resistance, how to say yes to new things." Afterschool gives you that space, that time.
We are trying to prepare girls for success in their adulthood. That's not just about getting A's on your report card. It's about having the courage to overcome all challenges, and our girls don't necessarily have those skills.
Another important way that afterschool is such an important environment for girls' learning is in the research we have around growth mindset. One thing that we know about girls is that they really suffer from perfectionism. We see this across the board...across race, across socioeconomic groups; that girls are often stuck in this need to do it right, to not look stupid, to not make a mistake.
We see it all the time. It holds girls back from really, as we say in our program, “taking center stage" and trying something new. So this research around growth mindset, around this idea that we don't come to a situation with a particular talent, per se, that we get to learn and grow, and we get to go, "Oh, I'm getting there. I'm getting better at something. I get to try something, make a mistake, and try it again." This is really, really important for girls.
Lynn Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of Spotlight: Girls, is a visionary social entrepreneur, speaker and girl advocate. She serves on the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women and the board of the directors of the How Kids Learn Foundation. Learn more about how to bring Go Girls! afterschool programming here. Lynn will also serve as the MC for the How Kids Learn VII Conference.
By Sam Piha
I am a strong supporter of social emotional learning (SEL), as the SEL competencies undergird learning. However, I believe that it is important to be aware of opposing views, and the dialogue that follows.
On June 21, Chester E. Finn Jr. wrote an essay on the Thomas B. Ford Institute’s website entitled Why Are Schools Still Peddling the Self-Esteem Hoax? He suggested that SEL is rooted in ‘faux psychology’. I encourage you to read this article.
Education Week published several responses to this essay from afterschool and educational leaders. They included Alice Ray (Ripple Effects), Roger Weissberg (CASEL), Gil Noam (PEAR Institute), Camille Farrington (Consortium on School Research at the University of Chicago), and others.
If you are interested in SEL, I highly recommend that you review this essay and the responses that followed.
By Guest Blogger, Stacey Daraio, Temescal Associates
In a previous post, you wrote that there is a growing consensus that SEL and character building are important parts of a young person’s education and preparation for life and that this has resulted in a call for measurement and related tools.
This is reminiscent of the same call in the early 2000’s when youth development was gaining traction. We are asking the same set of questions about measurement as we did then.
What are realistic outcomes for SEL and character building and at what point do you measure them? SEL and character skills show themselves in a set of complex contextual situations and the skills are in development over time and will vary from situation to situation. An example is self-management. First, a situation needs to arise that calls for this skill. We do poorly on a test that we study hard for, we are treated in a manner that we don’t think is fair or equitable, we didn’t eat breakfast, etc. The situation provokes an emotional response in us. We have to learn how to manage through the emotion and understand the concrete steps we can take to regulate ourselves so that we can be in relationship to the hurt AND maintain our relationships with others.
This is a heavy lift, not just for young people, for adults as well. We may be able to work through the bad grade on the test, but we may lash out at being treated unfairly and yell, or throw something, or hit someone. Do we now say that we do not possess self-management skills because we are not able to use the skill consistently? Self-management, like the other SEL and character skills, is a skill that we continue to learn about throughout our lifetime and there are moments, even as adults, that we are unable to manage ourselves based on what is happening at the time.
What are realistic outcomes for SEL and character building and at what point do you measure them? We need to apply the lessons learned from over a decade ago. We know that we still want to improve the life chances of young people to:
• “Be economically self-sufficient — all youth should expect as adults to be able to support themselves and their families and have some discretionary resources. They should have a decent job and the education, or access to enough education to improve or change jobs.
• Be healthy and have good family and social relationships — young people should grow up to be physically and mentally healthy, be good caregivers for their children and have positive and dependable family and friendship networks.
• Contribute to their community — community contributions can come in many forms, but we hope that our young people will aim to do more than simply be tax-payers and law-abiders.” – Drs. Michelle Gambone and James Connell, The Community Action Framework for Youth Development.
The Framework goes on to ask and answer the question, “What are the necessary developmental accomplishments of youth needed to achieve the outcomes? And then, what are the critical developmental building blocks that need to be in place in all settings young people find themselves?” (See Youth Development Guide by CNYD.)
Using this model, the subject of measurement changes. Early on, we measure the setting to see if the critical building blocks are in place. When youth are between the ages of 15-17, they become the subject of measurement to ascertain the degree to which they have achieved their developmental outcomes, and we still assess to see if the building blocks are in place. Finally, as youth transition to adulthood, they are again the subject when we look to see if they have attained the long-term outcomes.
Similarly, the purpose of the measurement data changes. We use the data in the early stages for program and practice improvement. At later stages, we measure to assess whether our programs have delivered.
As we look at measurement of SEL and character today, it would serve us well to build on the lessons of the past.
Stacey Daraio, Co-Director, Temescal Associates, brings over 25 years of experience working in the field of youth development as a facilitator, trainer, and coach. She has experience working with diverse groups, from afterschool practitioners and parents to funders and technical assistance providers. Stacey has conducted numerous trainings and learning communities. Prior to her work with Temescal Associates, Stacey was the Deputy Director at the Community Network for Youth Development and a consultant for the Institute for Research and Reform in Education.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.