By Sam Piha
The Center for Promise is the applied research institute for America’s Promise Alliance. They set out to listen deeply to a diverse group of over 100 young people across the country about the critical program features driving their learning and development. The themes and insights that emerged make up the report entitled, All of Who I Am: Perspectives from Young People About Social, Emotional and Cognitive Learning. The report affirmed what we have known for decades, but it is always good to hear straight from youth. Below we quote the report's 6 critical program features youth name most essential to their learning and development.
- Relationships Overall, the term refers to a young person’s relationships within their learning setting. These relationships are multidimensional, in that they offer multiple types of support—e.g., informational, instrumental, and emotional. The rich relationships that young people spoke about include those with teachers, other caring adults, adult and peer mentors, and their peers.
- Belonging Belonging is the psychological or affective experience associated with the perceived validity of one’s inclusion and positioning within a given social context or network. (Young people) indicate that this affective experience contributes to the young person feeling enveloped in support and connected to peers and adults in a young person’s context; this in turn may facilitate community-building and mutual respect.
- Meaningful Learning Meaningful learning occurs when a young person’s educational activities and learning experiences are relevant to them, align with their life experiences and interests, and/or have value to them by connecting with their future orientations or life goals.
|Source: America's Promise Alliance|
- Intentionality Intentionality refers to a young person’s perception that there is a purpose and a reason for school or program activities and experiences. A Nation at Hope includes a recommendation for learning settings to have a strong mission that “prioritizes the whole child” and offers a clear and consistent vision that cuts across all aspects of the setting. This vision infuses all aspects of the learning setting; be it the language that community members use when talking to each other, how different spaces and areas are set up, or how schedules are organized in each setting.
- Agency Agency refers to a young person’s sense of, and expression of power over their own experience and their own lives. Agency conveys that the individual’s behavior originates in the person rather than compelled by someone else, and also reflects a person’s interest or investment in the behavior in the context of a goal (e.g., attending class in order to graduate). In this way, a young person’s agency is both tied to their internal focus of control and rooted in the individual’s relationship with their ecosystem (e.g., other people, the outside world). Agency acknowledges the influence of external factors and recognizes that the young person has the power to respond to these external forces by making choices that influence their impact.
- Identity Development Identity is the compass that guides an individual’s path—an internal sense of self that resonates with who you have been and who you can be. In this way, an individual’s identity is an internal meaning-making process, negotiated in relationship with a range of experiences and with that person’s conceptions about the future.
Q: How is it that you were selected to participate in this study?
A: Last spring, we received word from Jennifer Peck (Partnership for Children and Youth) on how to apply for an upcoming study by the Center for Promise. The Center for Promise wanted to include young people in conversation and research to better understand what young people felt was necessary to create conditions that supported their social, emotional, and academic growth.
Highlighting our extensive work in social-emotional learning since 1990, we at EduCare Foundation applied and subsequently received word that we were one of seven organizations nationally selected for the America's Promise Alliance's study. High school students at Social Justice Humanitas Academy, one of our outstanding LAUSD Beyond the Bell afterschool program sites and an EduCare ACE Initiative school site, were chosen by EduCare to participate. ACE Initiative school sites empower students, teachers, and parents to enrich themselves and their school community with kindness, empathy and human connection.
Q: What did you think about America’s Promise findings?
A: The America’s Promise findings reveal what young people need to feel safe, seen, heard, understood, worthy and loved--that which we all seek in order to thrive. In these times when inequities are even more prominently visible, these findings direct us towards a framework to re-invent educational spaces to meet everyone’s needs, not relying on youth to figure it out or to get lucky in a system that doesn’t always work in their favor.
Q: Would you comment on the critical features named in the report?
A: I most liked the interdependence and intersectionality of the six themes. Growth and self-actualization does not happen in a vacuum. The best lesson taught by the most renowned teacher passes over the head of the student who has no connection to the person teaching them or the people sitting to their left and right. Even then, the lesson stays in the student’s head, leaving no impact on the world, leading to no change if the student lacks agency or a way to apply it meaningfully.
Q: Can you give an example/ practice of how “agency” is promoted?
A: Our school supports agency through a summer bridge program to help incoming ninth grade students build new relationships with teachers, peers and near-peer mentors, learn the expectations and supports offered at their new school and acclimate to the school culture in a low-risk setting. In the second week, teachers offered students options in STEM, Art and ELA through which students explored their identity and their goals for themselves and their communities.
Q: Can you give an example/ practice of how “intentionality” is promoted?
A: Our school reinforces intentionality through its partnership with EduCare’s ACE Initiative in which we start each school year building relationships with team building games, problem solving challenges outside of our comfort zones, goal setting for the year and beyond, and reflective talking circles or “heart talks.” For our students, this frames their way of starting their school year and their lives by developing greater personal leadership, empathetic connections, and a compassionate school culture in which they can be supported and thrive.
We'd like to share the latest project from Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation- My Pal, Luke. My Pal, Luke is designed to address many social emotional elements through his words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books and educates kids on how to make sense of current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easily embedded in distance learning efforts or used with in- person programming. Check out episode 1 here or follow the My Pal, Luke Instagram for updates.
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