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New Initiative Brings Together Schools and Afterschool Organizations to Foster Social-Emotional Learning in Elementary School

Fostering Social-Emotional Learning in Elementary School
July 24, 2017

       The Wallace Foundation




The Wallace Foundation
Melissa Connerton

The Hatcher Group
Ann Bradley

 New Initiative Brings Together Schools and Afterschool Organizations to Foster Social-Emotional Learning in Elementary School

Four-year project funded by The Wallace Foundation aims to benefit students in six communities by aligning and improving SEL practices across settings and to develop knowledge to strengthen practice within the field

New York (July 24, 2017) – The Wallace Foundation is launching a four-year initiative that will bring together urban school districts and out-of-school-time organizations to help children in six communities around the country gain greater opportunities for social and emotional learning (SEL) and to better understand and generate lessons on how schools and out-of-school-time providers can work together to align and improve those opportunities.

A growing body of research, including the Wallace-commissioned University of Chicago study Foundations for Young Adult Success, has linked social and emotional learning – which is also known by terms including non-cognitive skills, inter-/intrapersonal skills, soft skills and character development – to success in school, career and life. However, it is not yet known how school and afterschool experiences can be strengthened, aligned and delivered in real-world, urban settings to help children develop these skills. The new initiative will explore how this kind of cross-sector alignment may benefit children in participating communities and ultimately lead to knowledge that can be applied to the broader field.

The Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI) seeks to explore how children will benefit if adults in schools and afterschool programs that have previously decided to develop social and emotional learning opportunities work together to align and improve experiences and climate to foster social and emotional learning. This includes helping children develop skills such as such as self-control, teamwork, persistence and goal-setting. The initiative will provide programs to roughly 15,000 children in kindergarten through fifth grade through a phased approach involving up to seven pilot schools in each city. The local partners will use a continuous improvement process, which involves implementing new practices, reviewing the results, and then incorporating changes based on what’s been learned. At the same time, RAND Corporation will conduct independent research on whether, and if so how, students benefited and will develop guidance on how such collaborations can be implemented across the field.

“Evidence points to the importance of building social and emotional skills as children develop, and that these skills develop over time, in multiple settings,” said Will Miller, the president of The Wallace Foundation. “But little is known about social and emotional learning, at scale, in large urban settings and about the potential benefits of schools and out-of-school providers working together. We are excited to learn more about the potential benefits of this approach, including what it takes to successfully implement such collaboration and what’s in the way.”

Like all Wallace initiatives, the effort is aimed at creating direct benefits for participating communities, as well as developing credible lessons for the field that can improve practice. Anticipated local benefits include:

  • increased opportunities for social and emotional learning;
  • improvements in adult practices, learning environments, and instruction; and
  • stronger partnerships between the school districts and out-of-school-time (OST) providers.

To identify relevant findings and create field benefits, the initiative includes a multi-year research study by the RAND Corporation that will produce public reports for policymakers and practitioners that shed light on:

  • what system-level supports are important for school districts and OST organizations to provide;
  • what enables progress, and what impedes it;
  • effective ways to enhance the social and emotional skills of adults in schools and afterschool programs;
  • specific practices and factors that are key to improving children’s outcomes;
  • what roles partnerships play; and
  • outcome evidence on improvements in children’s SEL and other measures of student success.

The six communities, who will be named by Wallace when grants are finalized, were chosen from a larger pool of districts that received planning grants last year. The sites receiving implementation grants were chosen based on fit with the foundation’s dual goals of helping local partners to strengthen their capacity and developing new knowledge that will be useful to the field. In the first year of the initiative, each district/out-of-school-time intermediary pair will share grants ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million. In addition, participating communities will also receive other non-monetary support, such as inclusion in a professional learning community, regular convenings with other cities in the initiative, supports to integrate and apply SEL data to continuous improvement systems, communications counsel, and other technical assistance provided by national experts such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the Forum for Youth Investment, the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality and others. 

The new initiative grew out of The Wallace Foundation’s years of work in youth development, including a dozen-year effort to encourage citywide coordination for afterschool that yielded more than 40 publications and found, according to a study by RAND, “that organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision making and sustainability.”

In May, a new Wallace-commissioned guide to 25 evidence-based SEL programs was released, offering detailed information about curricular content and programmatic features that practitioners can use to make informed choices about what to use to develop key skills and competencies. Written by Harvard education researcher Stephanie Jones, Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside & Across 25 Leading SEL Programs: A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers also explains how the SEL programs can be adapted to out-of-school-time settings, such as afterschool and summer programs.


The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has six major initiatives under way: 

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.
  • Afterschool: Helping cities make good afterschool time programs available to many more children.
  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.
  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.
  • Summer and expanded learning: Improving summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children, and enriching and expanding the school day.
  • Social and emotional learning: Aligning and improving SEL opportunities for children across school and out-of-school-time settings

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