14 Promising Practices for Improving Youth Social-Emotional Learning

5 years ago, 15 NYC nonprofit leaders had an idea: What if we all measured student social-emotional learning (SEL) the same way? Could we then look at results across all our program sites, identify who is moving the needle and learn from practitioners at those sites? This was the start of the Student Success Network (SSN), which today has 60 member organizations serving middle school, high school, and opportunity youth at 200 sites across NYC.

The Research Alliance for NYC Schools at NYU used 2017-18 Student Success Network Survey data to identify 18 Bright Spot Sites — member sites that had a stronger positive effect on youth SEL compared to other sites serving similar youth. SSN staff and youth interviewed practitioners at Bright Spot sites; participants in each interview collaboratively documented promising practices to share across the network.


Bright Spot practitioners are very clear that practices alone are not the answer. They emphasize the importance of creating underlying conditions that foster effective practices:

  • A Culture of Care – Staff prioritize relationships among themselves and youth to build trust and community, resulting in a safe space where staff and youth can talk frankly, set goals and come up with plans to move forward.
  • Inclusive Decision-Making – Staff seek out and incorporate youth feedback in program decisions, including hiring, curriculum planning, and policy changes. All levels of staff and students feel empowered to share new ideas to improve programming.
  • Personalized Attention to Individual Student Goals – Staff prioritize understanding individual student strengths, challenges, and goals, and staff support students in using their strengths to address challenges in meeting goals.  
Nicole Rodriguez of Phipps Neighborhoods shares her Promising Practice with SSN members.

2017-18 Promising Practices

Student Success Network will support members in adapting promising practices for their organizations. To indicate your interest, fill out this form.

Practices for Middle School Youth

Urban Assembly Unison

Nadia K Selby


Citizen Schools students apply to participate in multiple extracurricular activities throughout the year,  and the rigorous selection process requires students to justify and advocate for their top choices. Applications improved over the year, as did students’ Self-Advocacy responses on the SSN SEL Survey.

Bronx Middle School

Micah Finkelman, Colin Murfree

Growth Mindset

Over the course of 7 weeks, students are tasked with choosing and learning a new skill from a list of possible choices on YouTube. Each student demonstrated an increased understanding of Growth Mindset and more than 75% of the class demonstrated mastery of the skill.

7th Grade (Harlem)

L’Toya Jones, Krystal Bostick, Bill Mitchell

Academic Self-Efficacy

To maintain a strong college-going culture, HEAF staff hold monthly Roster Reviews, focused on student social-emotional and academic development. Meetings are informed by relationships staff build with students, as well as academic and program data. Staff create plans that ensure student well-being and success. Students in the 7th grade Harlem cohort benefited from reviews, increasing in academic self-efficacy on the SSN Survey.

PS 149 (Boys)

Richie Hurley, Joel Censer

Growth Mindset

PS 149 students reviewed progress reports and set weekly challenges with the Program Director to support academic growth. Staff leverage strong relationships to set goals and create action plans with students. Students improved in growth mindset and academic results.

South Bronx United

Bridget Mahon, Andrew So


Soccer coaches acting as mentors attend weekly “Kid Talks” meetings with staff, where they speak about each student-athlete on their roster, prioritizing academics, athletics, personal growth. Kid Talks help soccer teams build stronger bonds with each other and staff.

Y Scholars at Rockaway Village Academy

Samantha Narchet


Mood Meter

**In Progress**

To ensure that “all kids are included and no kids are left out”, staff use a Mood Meter — a check-in system that provides space for students to share how they are feeling throughout programming. Students demonstrated growth in belonging and increased interest in participating in additional programming.

Practices for High School Youth

Central Park East HS

Mayra Messi, Elizabeth Schrittwieser, Amy Gironda, Bennett Lieberman, Kelly Cooper

Growth Mindset

9th graders often enter CPEHS feeling unsure about how to envision and achieve their future. CPEHS aims to maximize positive peer-to-peer contact; one way is through panels between alumni and current students. Students see how students with a similar academic profile can succeed, and learn growth mindset language. Graduates from CPEHS have high levels of college persistence.

Groundwork for Success

Heather Burack, Marissa Disla, Keith Rogers

Academic Behaviors, Academic Self-Efficacy, Belonging

GWS staff elevate their student leadership cohort by allowing them to share responsibility and ownership of program design and implementation, including but not limited to staff hiring decisions. This creates a culture of inclusivity and “holistic learning,” and reinforces participants’ sense of belonging. GWS students improved in academic behaviors and self-efficacy as well as belonging on the SSN Survey.

It Takes a Village Academy

Valerie Hennessy

Interpersonal Skills

Personal Journey Modeling

**In Progress**

OneGoal recognizes that a difficult component of the college application process is writing a personal statement. Facilitators share their personal journeys to build trust and model a reflective process. By the end of the year, students improved their interpersonal skills and all students drafted a personal statement.

Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation

Nicole Rodriguez


Phipps staff created a curriculum that allows space for students to vote on the lesson they teach in after-school courses from among three different choices. Students buy in more when they are the “deciders.” As a result, students reported growth in belonging on the SSN Survey.

Sisterhood Academy

Shelly Strothers, Morgan Little, Christina Jean-Louis

Interpersonal Skills

Through their community guideline process, the program strives to create a space where young people and adult facilitators can be their whole selves, be vulnerable, and openly explore their own lived experiences and social issues. Participants feel valued as individuals with different perspectives and learn how to be with one another in the community, leading to overall improvement in interpersonal skills on the SSN Survey. 

Young Women’s Leadership


Belonging, Growth Mindset

Building Community and Confidence Through Experiential Learning

**In Progress**

SAYA! presents experiential learning opportunities for youth to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, building a feeling of community. These experiences allow students to build confidence and see their own growth as leaders. This led to growth mindset and belonging improving on the SSN Survey.

Rowe Scholars at Bronx Explorations Academy

Bianca Sugrimsingh, Wirna Diaz

Growth Mindset

Y staff facilitate college-readiness sessions during Monthly College Weeks, accompanied by one-on-one meetings focused on goal-setting and self-reflection with students to ensure student success in the college application process.

Leaders Club at Prospect Park YMCA

Jamel Davis, Joseph Satoo, Michelle Duran

Belonging, Growth Mindset, Interpersonal Skills

To help teens feel at home and welcome to take leadership roles at their Y and their own community, Y staff introduced a group meeting model that grants opportunities for older students to take leadership roles and for all students to share insights and advice. These discussions gave way to a significant increase in interpersonal skills, growth mindset and belonging.

Stefano Barros

Stefano believes that one of the best ways to develop young leaders is through community building in youth-centered spaces. This is the driving force behind his focus on strengthening SSN’s reservoir of resources through collaborative learning and research. Stefano joined the team after holding college access and youth leadership development roles in Boston and New York City.


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