2019 Promising Practices for Improving Youth Social-Emotional Learning


Student Success Network formed in 2011 when a group of 15 nonprofit leaders in NYC decided it was time to shift their focus beyond traditional academic skills to include social-emotional learning (SEL) skills they knew were critically important for student success. After two years of exploration, influenced by collective impact approaches, these leaders created an SEL measurement tool so they could compare results across all their programs and identify promising practices. Their vision was that all organizations could serve more students more effectively by working together.

Flash forward to today, and SSN is a self-governing community of 65 member organizations collectively closing the opportunity gap for youth. Together, members address challenges related to postsecondary access and persistence, focusing on SEL as a primary lever.

The original measurement tool members created five years ago has evolved over the years based on the needs of the Network and today the Student Success Network Survey explores seven SEL competencies. 

What are Promising Practices?

Each year, the Research Alliance for NYC Schools at NYU uses Network SEL Survey data to identify Bright Spot Sites sites where participants experience greater growth in at least one SEL factor compared to similar young people across the Network. Practitioners at Bright Spot sites then share Promising Practices that they hypothesize improve their participants’ SEL. 

Throughout August, SSN staff and youth have been conducting interviews with the 20 Bright Spot Sites with hopes of highlighting Network Members’ expertise. Participants in each interview collaboratively document the Promising Practices to share across the network and they will be published here and on the Resource Library as they are documented.

We are so excited to share the findings with you – stay tuned for themes that emerged across interviews and more Promising Practices as we continue the process!   

2019 Promising Practices

Life Lines Community Arts Project

Karla Herrera, Elizabeth Jones

Growth Mindset

Middle School Students

During after school academic time, instead of only having the option to do homework, students can pick an academically-inclined “Learning Choice” activity from a consistent menu of options. Staff facilitate the activities while building relationships, modeling enthusiasm, and giving prizes to students who return to the activity each week.

YMCA Rowe Scholars at Bronx Explorations Academy (BEA)

Amanda Pagan, Bianca Sugrimsingh, Cody Velez


High School Students

Y staff prepare students and families for the college application process, communicate deadlines, track individual student progress, and provide emotional reassurance along with technical support. Staff hold students accountable for completing college application and enrollment themselves: They set a strict expectation that students and not advisors complete the steps. Staff enforce this boundary in order to prepare young people for success in college, where they will be expected to complete tasks independently.

Frederick Douglass Academy I Boys Team

Owen Van Arsdale


High School Students

Harlem Lacrosse coach asks  student athletes to brainstorm values that they wanted to see in a team, chose values that recurred in students’ responses, and consistently reinforces those values throughout the year through activities and printed materials.

360I, Carat, Google Tuesdays

Evin Robinson

Belonging and Self-Advocacy

High School Students

Throughout programming, New York on Tech students are given opportunities to see people who look like themselves represented as leaders in the tech industry. Staff build in discussions about representation during activities, personalize activities to student backgrounds, and set norms around engagement with industry professionals. These practices improve belonging and self-advocacy by building caring, open relationships between staff and students.

S.T.A.R. Middle School at Erasmus

Rebekah Severe, Megan Butch, Diamond Gordon

Academic Self-Efficacy and Self-Advocacy

Middle School Students

At the Brooklyn College Community Partnership (BCCP), students work on projects that build their STEAM and social-emotional skills. BCCP staff recognize that middle school can be a difficult time in a young person’s identity development. In response, teaching artists start sessions with self-reflection, give students a platform to practice positive affirmation, and recognize the strengths of individual students.

Port Richmond High School

Meghan Duffy


High School Students

OneGoal Program Director dedicates each Friday (of a daily 11th-grade college access course) to a team building activity. She also creates a visible shared document to track grades and assignment completion. Participants grew more comfortable with each other and with the instructor, allowing them to navigate the college application process together.

Rowe Scholars at Julia Richman Education Complex (JREC)

Candy Halikas, Jessica Harris-Avila, Lorraine Santana, Kenneth Melendez

Interpersonal Skills

High School Students, 11-12th graders

YMCA staff at JREC design lesson plans that feature an icebreaker, a smaller-group activity that requires teamwork, and a whole-group discussion. Their discussion questions ask teens to reflect on (1) their own and others’ feelings (2) their assessment of their group’s teamwork– what went well, what didn’t go well (3) the impact of their own actions and what they could do differently, and (4) connecting social-emotional skills to their own lives.

YMCA Leaders Club at Prospect Park Y

Joseph Satoo, Jasmine Rosa

Academic Self-Efficacy, Belonging, Growth Mindset,
Interpersonal Skills, Problem Solving and
Self-Regulation (Academic Behaviors)

High School Students

Staff and teens at Prospect Park YMCA share program decision-making power through a Teen Committee. Committee members gather input from other teen participants to make decisions about program like activities and trips. Teens seek adults for support and advice.

YMCA Y Scholars at IS 126Q

LaChanda Williams, Julia Defeo

Belonging, Interpersonal Skills

Middle School Students

YMCA staff at IS 126Q facilitate “Teen Talk” sessions– structured group discussions that teach communication and coping skills, while fostering connections and trust between counselors and youth and among students. Counselors facilitate single-gender groups of students discussing topics relevant to middle schoolers like bullying, self-love, and self-expression.

Leaders Club at Coney Island YMCA

Toni Coley, Andre Desir, Justin Martinez


Middle School and High School Students

Staff at the Coney Island Y consistently communicate to teens that “because you come, we have a program. It’s your program.” Staff foster youth-adult partnership in decision-making by (1) including two committed teens in weekly staff planning meetings (2) giving teens input and choice in many aspects of programming from discussion topics to trip plans, (3) checking in with students who don’t return to program to ask what they want to see and (4) balancing incentives with structure and accountability.

Options Center

Amy Kirschenbaum, Monica Ortiz, Gustavo Aguilar, Juana Alejandro

Academic Self-Efficacy

High School Students

During “Wish I Had Known” Panels, college students in the Success program return to share what they’ve learned with high school seniors in the Access program. Goddard staff step out of the room to leave space for students to ask and answer questions they might not be comfortable discussing in front of staff.

Alexandra Lotero

Alexandra is passionate about the power of putting actionable data in the hands of practitioners and youth. Her mission is to support practitioners, researchers, and youth in creating data-informed, relationship-driven cultures that continuously improve student experiences that put all youth on a path to success. She is the proud daughter of Latin American immigrants, a City Year New York AmeriCorps alum, and the former Operations and Program Director for the 115-member NYC Civic Corps and 10-member NYC VISTA AmeriCorps programs at the NYC Mayor’s Office.


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