News from the Field 1: Metropolitan Family Services 21st CCLC Promotes SEL

Written with assistance from Vikki Rompala, Outcomes and Evaluations Director

At Metropolitan Family Services, social and emotional learning has been part of our work since we began offering 21st CCLC programming in 1996. We use a three-tiered approach to programming that includes trauma-informed care and behavioral health. 

All students have an opportunity to participate in everyday activities like basketball, dance club, and homework help. When there is conflict or behavior issues, we ask students to resolve their issues in restorative justice peace circles instead of simply administering punishment or removing them from programming. During the peace circles, students (the victims and the accused) learn to resolve conflicts, take responsibility for their behavior, and repair harm done by discussing conflicts and how they can be fixed. We also offer targeted support activities (second tier programming) like male mentoring, teen dating violence prevention education classes, tae kwon do, substance abuse prevention programs, and groups that use Think First problem-solving curriculum and anger coping strategies. Although it is tempting to see tae kwon do as a martial art or a sport, we consider it second tier programming because it helps students develop discipline, self-regulation, and conflict resolution skills.

As our third tier of support, we refer students (and sometimes family members) for supports such as mental health services, domestic violence counseling and court advocacy, and family counseling programs. Our 21st CCLC sites are located at schools in the same neighborhoods where we have Metropolitan Family Services centers, so that students and their families can easily access emotional wellness services if they need them. 

Because our organization serves high-risk communities we have become a trauma-informed organization, and all of our staff receive Trauma 101 training. Because some of our younger staff are newer to the afterschool environment, we also provide guidance on developing relationships with students so that they don’t see every behavior problem as a crisis but instead work with students to resolve the situation. We encourage staff members not just to rely on programming but to also see themselves as tools to help students develop social and emotional skills. Trusting relationships with students don’t happen overnight, but they are an important component to helping students resolve difficulties. You can’t provide a safe and supportive environment through curriculum alone. 

One of the things that we love about our afterschool program is the way it serves as a testing ground where students can practice new skills in a safe environment. Sometimes this means offering activities like basketball or basket weaving, but we also encourage students to identify specific social and emotional skills that they want to practice, such as organizational skills or learning to manage their time or attention. Sometimes, as students build their social and emotional skills, they lay the foundation for academic progress. 

Our evaluation data includes student and parent surveys. Every year we are amazed at what students say they have learned about themselves and their relationships with others, especially since our program started holding peace circles. Hearing students—or their parents—share stories about how students handle conflict differently or have developed a specific skill is almost as powerful as some of the data that we collect. Our goal for the upcoming year is to align students’ self-reported social and emotional skills with those that are known to be important to academic success and college and career readiness to see how they compare to students’ academic trajectories.