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Transformative Social-Emotional Learning in Out-of-School Time: An Exploration of Measurement and Growth

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has gained significant recognition as an essential component of personal and educational growth. It empowers individuals, spanning various age groups, with the essential knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to foster strong self-identities, all while nurturing empathy and nurturing positive relationships. Recently, we had the privilege of presenting ExpandED Schools’ process for adapting a student-report measure of transformative SEL for Out-of-School Time (OST) during the 7th International Conference held by the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) in Chicago.

The founding authors of the transformative SEL framework, Drs. Jagers, Rivas-Drake, and Williams, began with the foundation that educational opportunities are far from equitably distributed. These disparities, influenced by socioeconomic status, race, location, home language, and disability status, have a profound impact on young people’s learning experiences. Transformative SEL addresses these disparities by focusing on individual success, interpersonal relations, and community-building, while also delving into the critical examination of factors contributing to inequities. In this way, transformative SEL centers issues of equity and social justice as critical to effective SEL implementation and growth. 

In collaboration with Every Hour Counts, a leading voice in promoting the work of building expanded-learning systems, and funding support from the New York Life Foundation, we spent the past seven years leading a National Social-Emotional Learning Initiative, offering training and support to local intermediaries in seven cities across the United States. Our mission is clear: to enhance the OST experience for young people, equipping them with the tools to succeed and thrive.

Our journey in measuring SEL in OST has evolved over time. We transitioned from a teacher-focused approach to a youth-centered one. This shift allows for greater flexibility and alignment with our core framework, which centers around belonging, agency, and equity. This approach has been developed in response to the demands of OST administrators and leadership who emphasize the importance of integrating the voice of youth into the equation.

Challenges have arisen in our quest to measure OST SEL effectively. One significant challenge is the lack of OST-specific SEL surveys. Additionally, concerns have arisen regarding potential reference and racial biases in the surveys used. To address these challenges, we adapted the School and Community Pathways to Engagement (SCoPE) student survey. SCoPE is a youth-report measure that is explicitly aligned with transformative SEL and culturally responsive evaluation, created by one of the co-authors of the foundational transformative SEL framework, Dr. Debbie Rivas-Drake and her colleagues at the University of Michigan. It encompasses agency, equity, and belonging, addressing these key aspects of SEL. However, this survey was originally developed for use in school-day contexts; thus, we adapted the measure to apply to the OST context, narrowing the survey to eight questions focused on agency, equity, and belonging to minimize youth survey burden and fatigue.

Five of our seven partnering cities, including NYC, administered this survey in school years 2021-22 and 2022-23; this past year, we received nearly 800 responses. Our data reveals significant progress in equitable treatment within afterschool programs. However, there are opportunities for further improvement in cultivating culturally responsive practices, particularly to foster more opportunities for youth voice and choice throughout our programs. Moving forward, our focus will be on amplifying youth voices, exploring more participatory measures of evaluation, and continuing our efforts to promote SEL in the Out-of-School Time landscape.

Our journey to measure SEL in OST exemplifies the transformative power of Social-Emotional Learning. As we navigate the path toward equitable opportunities and inclusive communities, our commitment remains unwavering: to provide young people with the skills they need to succeed, collaborate, and thrive. Be sure to stay tuned for further updates on our journey to enhance SEL in OST.

To learn more about ExpandED’s SEL program, please click here.