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BPS Awarded Wallace Foundation Grant to Advance Social-Emotional Learning

The Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced on Monday, July 24, that it will share a four-year grant with Boston After School & Beyond, a local nonprofit organization that coordinates afterschool programs citywide to promote social-emotional development of students.


Through the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative, the two organizations will focus on helping elementary school children in Boston develop positive social and emotional skills, including interpersonal skills like teamwork, intrapersonal skills like self-regulation, and applied skills like perseverance. A growing body of research shows that these skills are linked to success in school, career and life.


“Boston is a national leader in social-emotional learning,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “With the help of the Wallace Foundation, Boston Public Schools will be able to explore best practices that can be replicated across our city and across the country. I would like to thank the Wallace Foundation for its support, along with Superintendent Tommy Chang and his leadership team, for enhancing the teaching of these life skills that will help all of our students be successful.”


Boston is one of six communities across the country selected for this innovative initiative, based on promising initial efforts to incorporate social and emotional learning into services for children. The initiative will reach roughly 15,000 children in kindergarten through fifth grade across the six cities through a phased approach involving up to seven pairs of district schools and afterschool providers in each city.


“The Boston School Committee is pleased that Boston is again being elevated on a national scale for pursuing groundbreaking work to help all students,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael O’Neill. “When students listen to one another and focus on developing interpersonal skills, the results stretch far beyond the classroom.”


“Boston Public Schools is honored to work with the Wallace Foundation to expand this critical work,” said BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang. “When students are cognitively, socially and emotionally engaged, they will be far better prepared to become the leaders, advocates, entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow.”


This grant comes at an opportune time for Boston youth. The initiative builds on ongoing efforts, led by BPS’s Office of Social Emotional Learning and Wellness to implement comprehensive, health-related policies; create safe and welcoming school environments; and promote a whole-child approach to learning. Similarly, Boston’s afterschool providers have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to teaching, measuring, and improving social and emotional skills. The recently revised Achieve, Connect, Thrive (ACT) Skills Framework unifies over 180 afterschool and summer programs in Boston around a common vision for youth success.


“Boston's afterschool programs are committed to working with schools to improve and measure vital social and emotional skills," said Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond. "Through this partnership, educators will gain the tools and training needed to support students year-round.”


“All learning ties back to social-emotional skills,” said Amalio Nieves, assistant superintendent of social-emotional learning and wellness for BPS. “As we focus on meeting the needs of the whole child, this grant will help us tremendously as we create strategies to cohesively support this work throughout the school district.”


The RAND Corporation will conduct independent research on the effort to understand benefits for children – and what it takes to generate them – as well as barriers that stand in the way. This reflects the Wallace Foundation’s dual goals of creating direct benefits for participating communities, as well as generating credible lessons that can be used by other districts.


BPS and Boston After School & Beyond will share the grant, which in the first year will be up to $1.5 million and will be reassessed each year afterward for the remainder for the four-year grant, as well as receive non-monetary support, such as professional learning and technical assistance.


Playworks, a nonprofit that works with schools to increase physical activity and safe, meaningful play opportunities for students, will partner with all Boston pilot sites to provide a full-time recess coach throughout the school day and afterschool hours.


“Every school day for the past 11 years in Boston, Playworks has been placing or training enthusiastic adults on school playgrounds," said Jonathan Gay, Playworks New England Executive Director. "Play and physical activity are amazing opportunities for students to learn social and emotional and 21st-century skills that kids need today. These skills are critical to the success of students in the classroom, in the community, and beyond."


A growing body of research, including the Wallace-commissioned University of Chicago study: Foundations for Young Adult Success, has linked social and emotional learning to success in school, career and life. However, it is not yet known how school and afterschool experiences can be strengthened, aligned and delivered in real-world, urban settings to help children develop these skills. The new initiative will explore how this kind of cross-sector alignment may benefit children in participating communities and ultimately lead to knowledge that can be applied to the broader field.


“We’re very excited to announce the selection of the implementation grantee pairs, all of which worked incredibly hard during the planning phase,” said Gigi Antoni, the director of learning and enrichment at The Wallace Foundation. “These entities have demonstrated the potential to work collaboratively and have created thoughtful, strategic plans intended to achieve real benefits for students. We’re looking forward to following their efforts and to sharing what we learn with educators and afterschool providers nationwide.”


During the planning-grant period, which began last fall, BPS and Boston After School & Beyond developed a plan to implement SEL in their communities using strategies such as providing professional development, implementing SEL programs and practices within a group of pilot schools, supporting continuous improvement, and engaging community stakeholders. They received technical assistance and guidance from national experts affiliated with the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, the Forum for Youth Investment and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL).


The new initiative builds on The Wallace Foundation’s years of work in youth development, including a dozen-year effort to encourage citywide coordination for afterschool that yielded more than 40 publications and found, according to a study by RAND, “that organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision making and sustainability.”