K-12 Education

In Cleveland, Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is a Partnership between Schools & Broader Community

May 18, 2017  • National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

Cleveland community leaders and a local teacher union official said schools need community partnerships to promote social, emotional, and academic development with students and the adults in their lives. That was one of many takeaways from a public hearing held by the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development on May 2 in Cleveland.

Commission Co-Chair Tim Shriver moderated the hearing. The panelists were Jillian Ahrens, a 1st grade teacher and a leader with the Cleveland Teachers Union; Shana Marbury, vice president, Greater Cleveland Partnership, one of the nation’s largest metropolitan chambers of commerce; Casey Morgan, director, MyCom, a network of programs that provide youth development opportunities throughout Cleveland; and Stephanie Wu, senior vice president City Year, a national service organization for young adults. Here is a sample of the rich exchange:

Can we create a common SEAD language for school, afterschool programs, and even internships?

Morgan has seen efforts to train communities in the language of school improvement plans spill over into afterschool programs. “Community agencies are using the same language they hear in schools,” she said. “That’s a good start.” Ahrens added that while she’s not sure it’s possible to create a core language for all, the important point is that “we are all talking” and have common visions, goals, and values about what children need. Marbury said her partnership of Cleveland businesses began the work without thinking of it as SEL. “For us, the primary focus is to make sure that children in Cleveland have the skills and talents to be part of the workforce going forward,” she said.

What would you change about school partnerships to better share and promote SEAD?

Communication is difficult, notes Marbury. Educators and business talking together sounds like a Tower of Babel; no one is sure what the other is saying. Cleveland has made great progress, she said, but added that it would be helpful to have clear and understandable lines of communication from the district to the school level. Morgan added that the one change she’d make is to give community groups more access to schools so that they can bring the services and programs they have to offer in a continuum of support.

What can districts and schools be doing differently to maximize SEL effectiveness?

Ahrens said that Cleveland took a critical step to build SEL into the daily lives of teachers and students by including SEL in its contract with teachers. She added, “The question was not, ‘does this belong’ but, ‘what specifics belong in the contract?’ ” Building on that foundation, the district now focuses on outreach to parents and the community. The Parent University uses fliers, meetings, and other means to provide updates on school-based SEL activities. New families receive orientations about SEL initiatives, including Second Step, which helps teens work on positive decision-making skills.

How well are you reaching all students, including the most challenging students?

Morgan noted that MyCom’s True2U mentoring and job awareness program will reach all Cleveland 8th graders. MyCom started with one-third of eighth-grade students and is working up to 100 percent, she said. Formal training is provided to mentors so that they are prepared for the different challenges that can come up with students.

How do we all work together to create a shared intent to help young people?

Ahrens said that the leaders that oversee the district’s SEL initiative, Humanware, use quality standards and regular interactions with partners to help promote a common agenda. She added, though, “We do need to improve that.” Morgan noted that MyCom has a school district representative on its executive committee and that they team up with the Greater Cleveland Partnership on projects. Wu added that City Year is embedded into corrective action plans of the city’s most vulnerable schools. “It’s clear how our services are driving strategies that the district is pursuing in those schools.”