Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social & Emotional Learning

In 2014, the Susan Crown Exchange (SCE), a national foundation, and the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a research center, set out to determine how out-of-school programs throughout the country can be more intentional about providing social and emotional skill development. From an extensive pool of applicants, the Weikart Center and SCE selected eight top out-of-school programs that not only make a commitment to SEL, but have a proven track record of working with one of the hardest populations to reach: vulnerable and at-risk adolescents.

The programs selected as partners in the Challenge hailed from seven cities and offered a diverse array of opportunities for youth aged 14-19. Weikart and Challenge partners then set out to determine why these programs are so effective and how these practices and approaches to SEL could be shared with others. An extensive research process followed that included interviews, site visits, evaluations, convenings, and surveys.

What the Challenge found was that was no matter if teens were building boats in Philadelphia or writing a musical, with the right staff practices, supports, and curriculum, youth participants develop social and emotional skills. Six skill areas–emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative, and problem solving—also rose to the surface as key skills in social emotional growth. Not only that, but Weikart and Challenge partners determined that these practices and offerings could be replicated at any program.

Now, these best practices and examples are available for any program to use through a new guide, “Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices in Social & Emotional Learning.” The field guide sheds new light on how out-of-school programs can equip teens with valuable social and emotional skills. Inside the guide, readers will find key staff practices drilled down and described for each of the eight programs. The guide also shares narratives from staff and youth that tell the stories of how these programs are making a difference in the lives of young people each day.