Creating a Student-Centered Program to Build SEL Skills

Name: Michelle Duran, Jamel Davis, Joseph Satoo

Organization: YMCA of Greater NY (Leaders Club at Prospect Park YMCA)

Date: August 28, 2018

SEL Competency: Interpersonal Skills; Belonging; Growth Mindset

Driver of Focus: Elevating Youth Voice, Caring Relationships

Cohort Demographics: 6th-12th Grade


The Leaders Club at Prospect Park serves as an entry point for teens in Brooklyn, so the staff made it a priority that this diverse group of teens feel welcome to take leadership roles both in the Y and in their 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.



  • Vent Sessions: Once a week, 30-45 mins
  • Group Discussions: Once a week, 45-90 mins


  • A separate room, for students to sit in a circle
  • 10:1 student to staff ratio


Vent Session: Depending on the relationship with students, try not to have too many authoritative figures in the room, so students feel safe sharing negative opinions.

  • Set community guidelines with students, including a talking piece.
  • Ask students to share anything on their mind. “the past week, month.” Place emphasis on sharing, regardless of it being good, bad, silly, whatever. Remind them to adhere to community guidelines. If relevant, ask if any other students have advice to offer. “Could they do something differently? How could they move forward with this situation?”
  • After all have shared, it’s “Shout out Time” – Students give a shout out to at least one person in the room. ex: “Shout out to Tom for helping me with my essay earlier today…”

Group Discussions:

  • Try to make it a recent issue, or something relevant to students. Ask students for topics.
  • Train students facilitators with PARC (Plan, Action, Reflect, Celebrate) / SAFE methods.
  • Remind students of the group norms, and to respect each other.
  • Each topic should have a section to give information; one for open opinions, ask for all to share; a reflection: Ask, “as a leader, how would you address this session?”; and student feedback on the structure and topic of the discussion.


Students at Prospect Park Leaders Club are expected to take a leadership role in their communities. These vent sessions and discussions are a means for them to get to know each other, with 7th graders and 11th graders forming relationships through these discussions, and serve as an opportunity for older students to take leadership roles in the group. They also give students the chance to share insights, emotions and advice.


Based on Network-Wide SEL Survey Analysis, YMCA Prospect Park Leaders Club was identified by Research Alliance for NYC Schools as one of 18 Bright Spots; meaning they had a greater positive effect on youth SEL compared to sites that serve similar students across the Network. This site was recognized as a Bright Spot in ALL SEL competencies. These charts show the change in the percentage of youth responding positively to Survey questions related to Interpersonal skills, Belonging, and Growth Mindset.



  • Make sure to have student-led community guidelines
  • Precede Vent Sessions with an icebreaker — different icebreakers each week
  • When thinking about topics, ask “What do i wish I spoke about when I was a teen?”
  • Be vulnerable!
  • Share your own background, but validate their experiences by not comparing them to your own
  • Engage student families and share what’s going on in program to build that relationship.
  • Build a suggestion box with the students
  • Emphasize importance sharing and accepting different perspectives vs changing them.
  • Take student feedback seriously, and do best to implement that in the following discussion to promote buy-in.

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

Find a printable copy of this practice here. If you have questions or thoughts about this practice, comment below.

Related Posts:

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.

No Comments

Post A Comment



* indicates required




         Our Story | Team | Contact Us


         Measuring SEL | Improving Together | Building a Movement


         Member Organizations | Advisory Board | Funders




Twitter icon Facebook icon Linkedin icon Instagram icon