Dallas sees strides in social and emotional learning study

Early findings from six-year initiative show promise in work between elementary schools and out-of-school time programs.

Fewer disciplinary referrals, fewer absences and a more positive campus environment. Those are just three of the early optimistic findings from the Dallas contingent taking part in a six-year study on social-emotional learning.

Dallas is one of six communities nationwide participating in the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative (PSELI) from Rand Education and Labor and the Wallace Foundation, which are helping gather data to see how schools and out-of-school-time (OST) partners can collaborate on SEL skill buliding.

The Dallas SEL coalition has seven elementary schools from the Dallas Independent School District in the study along with the Dallas Park and Recreation department and  OSTs Big Thought and Dallas Afterschool. So far, the results have been positive, with students exhibiting improved teamwork, goal-setting and self-control.

“Our staff and schools have intentionally implemented SEL since 2017, and we are beginning to realize its benefits,” Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. “In today’s challenging environment, schools are relying on tools like SEL more than ever to help children and adults cope and thrive. We look forward to the continued collaboration and benefits SEL will bring to our students and school district.”

Byron Sanders, president and CEO of nonprofit Big Thought, said aligning school and out-of-school learning has shown promise.

“Themes and sequencing were consistent across learning environments, allowing students and educators alike to be learning from the same playbook, using the same terminology,” Sanders said.

Dallas Afterschool CEO Christina Hanger agreed, saying, “That early decision to create aligned curricula has been key to our effectiveness. We approached the planning and implementation of SEL with a common goal and a shared commitment.”

Five other communities – Boston, Denver, Palm Beach County, Tacoma and Tulsa – were selected by The Wallace Foundation to receive grants from PSELI to implement SEL supports in elementary schools and are still taking part in the study. The goals of the study have been to see the outcomes and benefits on both children and staff.

One of the reported challenges noted by study authors, even before the pandemic, was the effect that turnover has had on those communities in the study. Another was a small power struggle happening between schools and OSTs, though authors said both were working on ways to provide more balance.

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