Building Bridges Between School-Day and Afterschool Learning Opportunities

Intermediary Approaches to Advancing Social and Emotional Learning

By Ally Margolis, Every Hour Counts

As this new, unprecedented school year begins, social-emotional learning (SEL) and development is needed now more than ever before — both for young people and the adults we entrust to care for them. As Dr. Shawn Ginwright explains in Healing the Impact of Racial Injustice and Inequality: The Role of Afterschool, an insightful webinar hosted by Temescal Associates, The How Kids Learn Foundation, and the EduCare Foundation, “We’re sitting in between trauma and transformation,” battling two pandemics, “COVID is the new one and racialized trauma is the one that’s always been around.” Meeting this moment requires a systems-wide approach that builds bridges between school-day and afterschool social-emotional learning opportunities.

School districts, afterschool leaders, and providers are facing heightened obstacles as they support the growing needs of young people and families this school year, from increased social isolation to feelings of trauma and grief, unemployment rates hitting the homes of too many, and a sweltering of racial injustice. But it is because of these obstacles that collaboration between school-day and afterschool professionals is more crucial than ever.

The Wallace Foundation’s new conference report, SEL + OST = Perfect Together, explains that social and emotional skills, which “can include the capacity to work productively with a group, manage feelings well, [and] resolve conflicts satisfactorily,” are recognized as “a key to success in modern life.” According to the report, strong relationships, feelings of safety and belonging, healthy mindsets, and social and emotional skill sets are vital for high-quality learning. More so, they’re safety vehicles for navigating these turbulent times. Whether the school year takes place in-person, virtually, or through a hybrid of the two, “the expertise of out-of-school-time providers in fostering young people’s social and emotional growth will be of heightened importance to our children’s well-being, their academic success, and their futures,” (SEL + OST = Perfect Together).

Afterschool intermediary organizations are pairing this wealth of out-of-school-time expertise with the SEL knowledge of local school districts. Through their coordinated, systems-wide approach, intermediaries are able to quickly mobilize resources and services for families and caregivers; offer young people learning experiences that build SEL competencies to support them throughout this difficult time and beyond; and train informal and formal educators on aligned SEL practices so they can care for themselves and the young people and families they engage with each day.

Several Every Hour Counts intermediaries — ExpandED Schools, in New York City, Prime Time Palm Beach County in Florida and Providence After School Alliance in Rhode Island — are collaborating with their local districts and community-based organizations to support the social and emotional needs of young people, caregivers and educators this school year.

ExpandED Schools Supports Young People and Educators with Feelings of Grief

Last spring, “New York City was coined the hotspot of the pandemic,” explained ExpandED’s Director of Social-Emotional Learning, Jacques Noisette, during Every Hour Counts’ virtual event, Connections and Solutions: Local Intermediaries Leading the Charge for Afterschool. Presenting on Partnerships: In what ways can school districts and community organizations partner to meet the social and emotional needs of young people?, Jacques shared the challenges New York City’s educators faced when transitioning in-person school-day and afterschool learning opportunities to virtual ones, and on top of that, supporting young people and families through a virus impacting the lives of so many. As youth, district and afterschool professionals began grappling with increased social isolation, feelings of trauma and grief resulting from COVID’s disproportionate toll on BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) communities, and the many racial injustices unfolding in our country, ExpandED brought its school and community based partners together for professional development opportunities grounded in SEL.

Noisette saw the social-emotional impacts of the health pandemic and the resulting need for equity-informed grief training playing out across NYC and around the country. Through ExpandED’s partnership with Every Hour Counts on a cross-city SEL initiative graciously supported by the New York Life Foundation, it became evident that the five cities participating in the initiative — New York City, Providence, Omaha, Dallas, and Madison — wanted professional development opportunities focused on grief and self-care, where educators and leaders could learn approaches for supporting themselves, their students and staff throughout times of overwhelming grief, trauma, and uncertainty.

Grief Support Professional Development: ExpandED partnered with Sabrina Fernandez, MSW, M. ED, a middle school social worker and SEL coordinator at New York City’s P.S. 84, to train school- and community-based educators and leaders across New York City and cities in the SEL initiative, on how to support themselves, their staff, and youth through periods of grief. While there were several takeaways from ExpandED’s training, Grief Support and Empathetic Language to Help School Communities, two resonating themes that school and community partners are now able to align around include:

  1. Language Matters: When supporting someone through grief — whether a young person, a parent, or an educator — ask open-ended questions that allow the person you’re speaking to guide the conversation, such as, “That must be really hard. Do you want to talk about it?” Conversely, statements like, “I know what you’re going through” or “I lost my parent too when I was your age,” place your own beliefs, values, or feelings on someone else, rather than allowing that person to direct the conversation.

2. It Starts with Me: When engaging with educators or children in conversations around grief, it may bring up feelings of discomfort for you. According to Ms. Fernandez, “This is a really uncomfortable time in everyone’s life. Make sure you’re paying attention to where your areas of discomfort are so that it’s easier to have conversations that usually make anyone feel comfortable.” By noticing your own anxiety and where it lives in you, you can avoid placing your fears and feelings onto others.

Prime Time Palm Beach County Makes Space for Self-Care and Mindfulness

When COVID-19 shut down schools and afterschool programs across Palm Beach County, FL, Prime Time moved swiftly to meet the social and emotional needs of its staff and community.

In fact, one of the organization’s first steps included leveraging the social-emotional tools and practices it had already developed, through its work with The Wallace Foundation’s Partnerships for Social-Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI) and the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, and making those readily available.

Prime Time coordinated with schools and community-based organizations to create and disseminate resources that would support with managing mental health and emotional challenges, feelings of grief, and emotions resulting from unemployment, social distancing, and disconnection. Resultantly, afterschool and school-based partners, youth, and families across Prime Time’s vast network had access to a number of tools, such as:

  1. Mindful Parenting in Challenging Times: Prime Time recognized the challenges of families and caregivers, balancing work with virtual school in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest. To aid in this nearly-impossible balancing act, the intermediary hosted a virtual event, Mindful Parenting in Challenging Times, open to families and educators across Palm Beach County and beyond. The session created space for participants to explore the challenges arising from their competing responsibilities and gain real-time practices to help them mindfully care for themselves and their children.
  2. Seven Day Self-Care Challenge: Prime Time developed a set of guided, on-demand practices that are mindfulness-based and trauma-informed to help educators, young people, and families navigate feelings of stress and anxiety. The self-care challenge offers awareness practices, movement and breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques to help people cultivate self-awareness, self-care, and resilience, particularly during challenging times.
  1. Professional learning systems: At the start of the pandemic, Prime Time’s staff engaged in a mind, body skills series, where they learned mindfulness and positive psychology practices that are both trauma-informed and equity-minded, to help navigate their own feelings of stress and anxiety. By walking the talk, Prime Time’s staff responded to the needs of their out-of-school time system more effectively and rapidly turned the training around to deliver it to school- and community-based and afterschool professionals participating in their PSELI cohorts. The sessions, crafted to be highly experiential and inquiry-based, lent room for Prime Time to learn from the communities it works with and build the learning together.

Prime Time added to these efforts by pivoting from its usual training schedule to focus on SEL and wellness, offering timely sessions for its network on how to deal with stress through their Adult SEL Series, engage students in project-based learning, deliver programming online and support young people virtually, embedding equity and cultural responsiveness throughout the content of these trainings.

PASA Serves as a Source of Strength and Support for Providence Families

When the global health pandemic hit and school-settings could no longer serve as hubs for connection and community, Providence After School Alliance carefully re-thought its family outreach approach and its coordination efforts with schools. The intermediary transitioned in-person events, such as open-houses and family nights, to remote opportunities focused on meeting families’ immediate needs, and collaborated with school and community partners to swiftly support families and youth.

PASA reached beyond school boundaries to assist families with accessing meals, distance learning opportunities and technological equipment. The organization began sending out newsletters and calling families immediately, putting its Family Outreach Script into action so that afterschool coordinators could quickly and consistently check-in with parents and caregivers each week.

These check-in calls served as critical connection points for PASA to assess families’ and young peoples’ crisis needs — food, mental health or questions about the virus — and share this information with schools so the two could support in disseminating necessary resources and services. PASA’s calls were also important opportunities to check on young people’s social and emotional health; share remote activities and programs that could support their social, emotional, and academic growth and development; and help them stay plugged into school-based distance learning opportunities.

PASA plans to offer caregivers new kinds of virtual opportunities this school year, through collaboration with its school and community partners, which will only strengthen its relationships with families and expand its reputation as a well-known source of support for the Providence community.

What’s Ahead

Collaboration between school-day and afterschool professionals is needed now more than ever. Every Hour Counts intermediaries — ExpandED Schools, Prime Time Palm Beach County, and Providence After School Alliance — are building bridges between the two, partnering with their local school districts and community-based organizations to support young people and educators with feelings of grief, make space for self-care and mindfulness, and act as sources of strength for families and caregivers.

For further insights on supporting your communities socially and emotionally, a new report, Early Lessons from Schools and Out-of-School Time Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning, published by the RAND Corporation and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, provides early implementation lessons from Wallace’s Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI). This study offers important insights on how 38 sites in six communities — Boston, Massachusetts; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Palm Beach County, Florida; Tacoma, Washington; and Tulsa, Oklahoma — are exploring whether students benefit when schools and their afterschool partners work together to improve and align experiences and climate to foster children’s social emotional learning — and what it takes to do this work.

Join The Wallace Foundation and the RAND Corporation on Monday, October 26 for their webinar, Early Findings and Lessons from the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, to learn more about the report.

ExpandED Schools, NYC

ExpandED Schools seeks to ensure that all kids have opportunities to discover their talents and develop their full potential. While the intermediary organization works on the ground to support schools, it also works with partners of all kinds to change public policy and build sustainable public funding to expand learning opportunities across the nation. Through collaboration with school leaders, foundations and policy-makers, ExpandED is forging new ground nationally in reimagining the school day.

Prime Time Palm Beach County, FL

Prime Time Palm Beach County is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and supports for out-of-school time professionals to develop programs that inspire children to be their best and allow them to thrive socially and academically. Prime Time’s integrated model of services is one of the strongest, most comprehensive and well-respected systems for measuring and improving out-of-school time program quality in the nation.

Providence After School Alliance (PASA), RI

PASA’s mission is to help close persistent opportunity gaps by expanding and improving quality after school, summer and other out of school time learning opportunities for all the youth of Providence by organizing a sustainable public-private partnership that contributes to student success and serves as a national model. PASA makes intentional connections between the community and schools, through academic content, but also through collaborative teaching practices and real-world learning experiences. For PASA, expanded learning is fun, relevant, deeper learning that happens anytime, anywhere.

National Network of Cities Dedicated to Expanded Learning, Equity, & Making Learning Fun

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