This blog was originally published by Education Week on Monday, July 16, 2018.
When social and emotional learning and after-school come together, amazing things can happen.
Social and emotional skills are a critical part of every child’s development. Likewise, after-school and out-of-school programming have a significant impact on young people and provide them with the opportunity to explore new ideas and develop important skills through real-world experiences and engaging activities.
After-school programs that incorporate social and emotional learning set kids up to succeed in the classroom, be prepared for the workplace, and thrive in life. Here are five reasons why social and emotional learning and after-school are the perfect match.
Non-traditional learning environments help kids develop and practice social and emotional skills. Building kids’ social and emotional skills can happen anywhere, from math class to the basketball court. But the energetic, flexible, and supportive nature of after-school programs creates a unique opportunity for kids to learn and practice these skills in ways that feel less like the classroom and more like real life. One of my favorite memories was watching a shy, timid fifth-grader completely come out of her shell and build her self-confidence while choreographing a group dance routine–all because she was given that opportunity to be a leader.
Kids can prepare for successful careers before they leave elementary school. After-school programs provide kids with the opportunity to explore interests and develop skills that will lead to success in college and career. When students select the activities they’re interested in, take on leadership roles in group projects, and participate in service learning, they build key skills like problem-solving, communicating clearly, and embracing differences that translate into competencies employers look for.
After-school program leaders become role models and mentors. After-school program leaders are caring, trusted adults who can have a profound and positive influence on the kids they work with. When social and emotional learning is emphasized in both programming for kids and training for after-school leaders, adults are able to model their own skills and intentionally infuse them into every interaction with kids. One of our program leaders, Jalen, told me about one of his kindergarten students, who liked to be a leader among his peers but was often swayed by the misbehavior of his friends. By providing consistent positive reinforcement and support, and modeling how to stay focused even when others aren’t staying on task, Jalen helped this student to soar and become a role model for his own friends in the program.
Research shows the positive impact of high-quality after-school social and emotional programming. A growing body of evidence tells us that quality after-school social and emotional learning has far-reaching, positive effects on students. We see that kids with strong social and emotional skills are more likely to earn a high school diploma, attain a college degree, and have a full-time job. Studies also show that regular participation in these programs results in increased empathy and self-confidence, improved grades and test scores, positive behaviors, and an increased attachment to school. WINGS’ recent randomized control trial (RCT) study provides firsthand examples: students who participated in WINGS for two years exhibited improved executive function and self-regulation, reduced hyperactivity and negative behavior, and improved quality of relationships with teachers.
Social and emotional learning in after-school changes lives. Research reports can tell us a lot about the effects that we can see, but only those who participate in and lead these programs every day can truly share the impact they feel. For example, Jessica, a former program leader, used lessons that we teach in our program and our Words to Live By to help a student get through a difficult time after moving away from her home. I also love to share the story of one of our alumni, Raheim, who credits WINGS with helping him to stay in school and graduate from college, and he’s now a proud firefighter in North Charleston. These stories are a powerful reminder of the impact of social and emotional learning in after-school not just through data, but from experience. Social and emotional learning and after-school programming are important parts of every child’s development. When combined, we’re able to positively impact all kids and prepare them for bright futures.
Bridget Laird is chief executive officer of WINGS for Kids, a nationwide after-school program focused solely on bringing SEL to at-risk kids. Follow WINGS on Twitter at @wingsforkids.