The “How” of Preparing Youth to Thrive

Alveena Shah, YW Boston Program Performance & Evaluation Manager
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“It is impossible to fit an entire InIt experience into one speech, and reflect on what all of InIt means to me, but it is necessary to try.”

So started the speech of Tope Sholola, InIt ’15, when she addressed the attendees of last year’s Elevating Lives Breakfast (see her whole speech and amazing spoken word poem here). In the nonprofit world, we are regularly asked to prove our worth and deliver evidence that our work has impact. In her speech, Tope alluded to one of the biggest challenges we encounter in talking about our youth leadership program:

How do we do it?

How do we manage to have a new class with different conversations and experiences each year, and produce the same great outcomes? And, given the impact of our program, how can we allow others to identify and replicate our best practices?

When we found out we’d have the chance to be a part of a collaborative learning community dedicated to identifying and describing how to run a high quality youth program, we jumped on the chance. YW Boston, alongside the Susan Crown Exchange, David P. Weikart Center, and seven other life-changing youth programs, worked to pinpoint those methods that allowed our high schoolers to develop and exercise social and emotional learning skills.

We came up with six key elements for success: empathy, emotion management, problem solving, responsibility, initiative, and teamwork. Together, these components make up the framework for a promising social and emotional learning (SEL) practice. Today, the result of all that work is available to the public for the first time in Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social & Emotional Learning.

These skills aren’t covered by typical school curricula. And yet, the research is clear that “social and emotional learning programs pave the way for better academic learning.” Daniel Goleman explains that if a child is caught in a distressing emotion, their capacity to learn is temporarily harmed. In an ideal learning environment, children are “focused, fully attentive, motivated, and engaged.”[1] The Preparing Youth to Thrive field guide will provide practitioners with a practical, adaptable curriculum to cultivate these qualities in the youth we work with.

Over the course of InIt’s Immersion Week, Tope tells us she learned that “when you are truly strong, you do not have to fear how you feel.” Our staff modeled the promising practices of making time and space for emotional processing and modeling emotion management. In turn, Tope and others in her class were able to identify and explore challenging emotions during Immersion Week. They now have the skills to identify and manage their emotions in difficult situations, including the classroom, setting them up for long term success.

Of course, as Tope said, it’s impossible to fit the entire experience into one blog post, or tweet, or research framework. But with the launch of Thrive, we come pretty close.