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Can After-School Programs Benefit Students' Social and Emotional Health?

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This week we are hearing from a partnership between the University of Louisville and Jefferson County Public Schools. Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: Lessons Learned From an Edu. Research-Practice Partnership.

This post is by Krista Drescher-Burke, PhD, MSW, Community Data Specialist at Jefferson County Public Schools' (@JCPSKY) Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Programs Division.

My position at Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is housed in the Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Division, and my role is to serve as thought partner with local philanthropic organizations on appropriate data collection and reporting among programs they fund, which serve JCPS students. Among other programs, the Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Division supports out-of-school time programs. Out-of-school time programs seek to advance children's learning outside of the classroom and have been recognized as contributing to key performance indicators, such as test scores, grades, and attendance.

When I joined the research-practice partnership (RPP) between the University of Louisville and Jefferson County Public Schools last summer, our RPP work offered an excellent opportunity to explore these programs and their benefits.

Specifically, we want to focus on social emotional learning (SEL) benefits of these programs. Louisville is currently experiencing a community-wide push to expand social emotional teaching and skill-building. Out-of-school time programs are ideal settings to focus on SEL: They often include activities conducive to teaching and learning leadership, confidence, conflict resolution, and so on; additionally, youth workers typically have a different relationship with youth than teachers do. Also, there are no state testing standards to worry about. Hence, we decided to study the effectiveness of the out-of-school time programs supported by our division on the SEL of the program attendees.

Our initial evaluation will serve as a pilot to explore which specific components of the programs are effective in addressing the unique needs of JCPS students. By definition, because we are the Diversity, Equity, and Poverty department in the school district, most of the students attending our programs are non-White, and most are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. This particular aspect of our pilot study aligns well with current community-wide efforts in Louisville to strengthen SEL among all students but particularly those who historically would not be college-bound: Louisville is currently in a technical assistance partnership with Harvard University through the By All Means initiative, whose stated goal is that every child is college or career ready, by all means necessary. The initiative addresses the correlation between children's socioeconomic status and their prospects for educational achievement. Our study thus fits well within the local context and current pushes to support underprivileged students and expand SEL opportunities.

I am excited to see our project progress and to further explore how after school programs can benefit the social emotional learning of children and youth in our community.

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The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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