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Equipping our youth with SEL skills: Local snapshots and strategies

By Kate Walker

Our public symposium series is an opportunity to invite national experts to share the latest developments and discuss cutting-edge issues in the field of youth development. But there is plenty to learn from our own local scholars and practitioners as well.  At our upcoming symposium on Nov. 24, researchers will share data on how Minnesota youth are doing on a set of social and emotional learning (SEL) indicators and a panel of practitioners will share some promising programs and strategies from right here at home.

All this will help inform Generation Next’s newest goal around helping our young people to be socially and emotionally ready to learn.  By naming this as their sixth goal, SEL is now right up there with helping our children be ready for kindergarten, on track with reading, math, and high school graduation, and ready for college and careers. For more about Generation Next, see their annual report.

Significant gaps in every SEL skill area exist between racial and ethnic groups. Though these data reflect serious challenges, they also provide a unique window into differences in race and culture. For unlike many other outcomes, some student groups of color have higher levels of social-emotional skills than white students. For example, our Somali youth report higher levels of positive identity and our Black, Hmong and other Asian youth report higher levels of commitment to learning.

Generation Next acknowledges that, while our schools have primary accountability for our children’s education, the broader community is also accountable for supporting this work. The partnership recognizes that we can more effectively narrow the achievement gap by aligning around shared goals and focusing our community on what has actually worked. Youth programs are particularly important in helping address their sixth goal around social and emotional skills.

On Nov. 24, we’ll hear from a panel of local practitioners who are having success promoting and reinforcing SEL skills by being culturally responsive, engaging families, and having a commitment to continuous program improvement. What can we learn from the promising strategies of Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative, the YWCA’s Strong Fast Fit program, New Lens Urban Mentoring Society and Extension’s Partnering for School Success?

What other local programs and strategies are having success developing SEL skills? What questions do you hope those attending the symposium will grapple with during table discussions? What kinds of strategies might you recommend for a collective-impact effort like Generation Next ?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

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