A Look Inside Boston Beyond’s Cross-Cutting Skills for Success
Guest blog by Chris Smith, President & Executive Director, Boston Beyond
Ask any HR professional what skills they seek in prospective employees. The answer is not likely to be something technical. Increasingly hiring managers seek people who can solve complex problems, work productively within a team, and keep a positive, open-minded attitude.
According to a 2019 report from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, eight in 10 employers say these skills are the most important to success but hardest skills to find. Whether characterized as social-emotional skills, soft skills, or non-cognitive skills, these are the skills that will enable a young person to thrive in an ever-changing world.
In Boston, we are using the after-school hours and summer months as a lever to build these skills. With the help of a growing network of 300 programs, Boston Beyond is using the Achieve, Connect, Thrive Skills Framework to equip Boston’s young people with the skills necessary to thrive in school, college, work, and life.
This framework provides a common vocabulary for the diverse group of organizations that participate in our network, which served more than 21,000 kids in the past year. The power of these skills is that they can drive the focus of every summer learning experience, but they do not dictate the subject matter or content. This allows programs — whether focused on the arts, sports, social justice, or work — to integrate skill development into the activities and culture. Whether a student is learning to swim at the YMCA, writing their own comic book at Sociedad Latina, or playing a doubles match at Sportsmen’s Tennis, they can practice and improve these critical skills.
For students, the development of these skills can be invisible. They may be completing ropes courses, learning capoeira, or painting self-portraits without realizing that they are actually building skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication, and perseverance. It’s the engaging, fun, and enriching components of these programs that are key to driving students’ enrollment and attendance, as detailed in The Wallace Foundation’s report Summer — A Time for Learning: Five Lessons From School Districts and Their Partners About Running Successful Programs.
Importantly, these skills are not fixed. They can be improved with practice. Boston Beyond provides professional development to this end, drawing on its network to provide data-informed peer learning opportunities. For example, in its Summer 2019 Data Debrief, Boston Beyond analyzed the aggregate skill development of students during the summer 2019 and showcased concrete program practices that help develop student skills. This allowed programs that excel to help those that struggle consider new approaches. Organizations such as Courageous Sailing to Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center shared how they are developing critical thinking, perseverance, and leadership skills with the students in their summer programs.
Naming the skills, providing the tools to build them, and measuring their growth have become core to Boston Beyond’s work. When there is a collective, intentional focus on developing skills, learning beyond school becomes a key contributor to developing tomorrow’s workforce, a goal around which all sectors can rally.
Boston After School & Beyond is a public-private partnership that seeks to ensure that all young people in Boston have opportunities to develop their full potential. Boston Beyond mobilizes partnerships among more than 300 programs serving 21,000 youth, philanthropy, business and higher education, the Boston Public Schools, and the City of Boston to create more and better opportunities for young people to develop the skills necessary for school, college, and career success.