Reflections on YW Boston’s SEL Challenge Collaboration with United Voices

Alveena Shah, (former) Director of Program Performance and Evaluation, YW Boston

In this blog post, we are pleased to highlight YW Boston’s SEL collaboration with France Belizaire, an adolescent social worker at Brockton Neighborhood Health Center and Director of the new youth program “United Voices.” With generous support from Susan Crown Exchange, Alveena Shah (YW Boston’s Director of Program Performance and Evaluation) leveraged learnings from the SEL Challenge and YW Boston’s InIt Program to provide technical support aimed at strengthening United Voices’ SEL curriculum offerings. The following blog chronicles Alveena’s reflections on the process.

United Voices is a youth development program aimed at providing a safe space for teens in Brockton to engage in community service and learn about important issues in civic engagement and health. Before meeting with France Belizaire to discuss incorporating SEL frameworks into United Voices, I asked her to complete a curriculum map similar to those found here. For programs like United Voices that want to refresh and strengthen their program philosophy, a curriculum map is a crucial first step to structure and center SEL offerings.

France built a curriculum map for United Voices before we met. With the map, she was able to visualize key strategic questions (which readers can see in the snapshot below!). What will the program provide the whole year to the people who decide to participate? France wrote: taxi fare, healthy food, structure and community. What skills are we hoping the participants have by the end of the year? France identified: empathy, citizenship, problem-solving, and ownership ­— among other powerful goals. In this fashion, the curriculum map process evolved. Illuminating key curriculum goals via this exercise, I was able to select specific examples of proven SEL tools from the SEL Practices website and handbook to suggest for inclusion in United Voices’ curriculum to enhance their SEL offerings.

In addition to curriculum-based SEL support, France also wanted to build a citizenship and social responsibility component into her program. She opted to use the 2016 election year as jumping off-point for enhancing young peoples’ knowledge about the civic engagement process — locally and nationally. Then, instead of pre-selecting a project for the young people to engage in, she built in a programmatic structure through which the young people themselves could choose their own civic engagement project — much like InIt’s Community Action Projects. Ultimately, the United Voices youth decided to perform a skit to coincide with World AIDS Day. In the skit, they sought to de-stigmatize the process of asking a partner for their STI status.

Participating in this process with France was an important step towards bolstering United Voices’ curriculum with impactful SEL activities. Since this initial collaboration, I have had the opportunity to discuss the program year with France. She reports that United Voices’ first year was successful – despite some to-be-expected challenges related to nonprofit sustainability. In the future she hopes to continue to expand the SEL content of her program, secure funding, and deploy additional staff to serve more young people.

United Voices is just one of several organizations YW Boston was thrilled to connect with via the SEL Challenge. We appreciate Susan Crown Exchange and partners who have collaborated over the past year in sharing their experiences, expertise, and stories of success. We hope to continue the dialogue with France, United Voices, and others as we collectively support the next generation of leaders with critical SEL opportunities!