Using Transformative SEL to Strengthen Central Ohio
“I appreciate what the [Aperture System] has to offer in terms of building the of social and emotional learning for educators. As an educator, I had to build that understanding [in myself] to best push for it with my students.”– Jessica Mahan, Curriculum and Continuous Improvement Lead
With its steadfast commitment to tackling the systemic inequities that too often prevent under-resourced youth from achieving their full potential, Partnership4Success (P4S) has solidified its reputation as a powerful backbone organization in Central Ohio. By convening a loyal community of equity-driven practitioners, P4S equips youth service providers and educators to strengthen the social, emotional, and academic outcomes of young people. And they do it using evidence-based approaches that are unapologetically centered on equity, anti-racism, and social justice.
The P4S work is made possible by an engaged group of funders, including the City of Columbus, Franklin County Job and Family Services, Franklin County Children Services, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Foundation, and United Way of Central Ohio. With this support, P4S offers monthly professional development opportunities, workgroups, coaching, facilitation, and collective impact guidance for groups seeking to grow their own place-based backbone capabilities.
The organization supports more than 40 non-profits, out-of-school time organizations, school-time-support organizations, and school districts. Upwards of 8,000 students are served each year.
Systemic challenges such as resource deprivation, racism, stigmatization, and low expectations present adverse conditions for healthy child development and education. These challenges alongside other socioeconomic inequities contribute to delays in social and emotional maturation and lowered academic outcomes on average. This reality in Franklin County necessitates the implementation of culturally responsive SEL intervention.
In this complex time of recovery from pandemic stressors especially, it is imperative to strengthen our skills as educators and collaborators, deepening our understanding of the historical and contemporary context of current crises, and putting our problem-solving skills into practice. The coordinated efforts of Partnership4Success, alongside youth service providers and other partners, are driven by a desire to disrupt inequitable systems to ensure that every child is positioned for success.
The P4S Approach
Research indicates that social and emotional learning (SEL) plays a critical role in students’ academic success and that out-of-school time (OST) programs have a unique context in which to develop social and emotional skills. P4S first began to address SEL by convening Central Ohio OST providers, helping them develop an understanding of how equity, SEL, and data-informed continuous improvement intersect. Initially, P4S’s professional development offerings focused on using Early Warning Indicator (Balfanz, 2004, 2019) data to build programming that met individual students’ SEL needs. In exploring resources that offer assets-oriented and strength-based tools that address and reduce bias, P4S landed on Aperture Education.
The Aperture System’s DESSA tools, with their strengths-based behavior rating assessments, align with P4S’s commitment to equitably responsive, whole-child instruction. P4S has leveraged the DESSA language, rating system, and EdSERT program to help providers look critically at their data, interrogate trends, and surface and disrupt educator bias. This often leads to challenging and necessary conversations, which P4S is particularly skilled at facilitating. These conversations, along with a focus on disaggregating the data collected through DESSA and other tools, have been transformative.
“Partnership4Success is a community of professionals that meet to discuss best practices in SEL and education. When attending, I not only get resources in SEL, but I also look forward to working with like-minded practitioners to sharpen my skills in order to better serve my schools. Each time I’ve attended I’ve left smarter, more skilled, and more prepared for the work of equity, social emotional learning, and trauma-responsive work within our communities,” said Omowale Crowder, Social-Emotional Support Specialist, Columbus City Schools.
From Partners to Team Members
The P4S team is comprised of individuals whose backgrounds shape their shared dedication to SEL, equity, community impact, and P4S.
Curriculum and Continuous Improvement Lead Jessica Mahan began her journey with P4S as a tutor for an immigration and refugee social services organization.
“I was introduced to P4S as a professional development source, using the resources within the Aperture System to increase my own understanding of SEL and how I could incorporate it into what I was doing. I valued what the Aperture System had to offer in terms of building the value of SEL for educators. As a tutor, I was participating in P4S’s professional development, following the SEL curriculum and translating that over into my work with young people. Aperture System’s foundational practices regarding routines and rituals and building relationships were especially helpful.”
P4S Program Manager Ikhlas Asadi has used DESSA in her work as an OST program provider.
“Our agencies offer academic and social development support to youth. Our involvement with P4S, along with the aligned data and interventions from DESSA, allowed us to integrate academic and social development support, thereby taking a holistic approach to working with youth. We are able to show how important SEL is in improving students’ academic and developmental outcomes.”
Their ability to address a wide range of youth needs, in addition to academic support, makes OST programs stand out as an ideal setting to address SEL.
Speaking from her vantage point on the P4S team, Asadi notes, “Our partners are diverse in terms of the programming they offer and the needs they address. But they all join us at the table to collaborate on wholistic approaches to working with individual students and developing effective, assets-based academic and behavioral interventions.”
Collective Impact Lead Kevin Gilmore began his career working with youth in high schools and had a similar experience with P4S. ”The DESSA explored through P4S’s equity-focused professional development allowed us to leverage our expertise in working with teens, including vocalizing and advocating for high school students. This led us to pursue powerful SEL approaches that were effective at the high school level.” Gilmore adds, “I can tell you from our high schoolers’ responses that the DESSA curriculum provided them with a language to explain and express themselves in ways that mattered. This opened the door for us to get into schools during the day, where we provided supplemental support in a way that was different from what had been done previously. Students and staff now share an SEL language and apply the Aperture concepts, not just in school but also in their lives beyond the classroom.”
Building Comprehensive Community Knowledge
As a trusted SEL resource and champion of Central Ohio youth, P4S has consistently expanded its reach. Its partners now include individual schools and school districts as well as OST providers. P4S Director, Dr. Marguerethe Jaede, draws on her prior experiences as a classroom teacher and teacher leader to explain the importance of educating potential in-school and OST partners about the link between SEL and academic outcomes. The organization regularly distributes reports on how learning happens and studies on how SEL is essential to that process.
“We offer partners and school districts language to explain SEL to their stakeholders,” Jaede explains. “The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is part of every conversation. We draw heavily on Aspen’s knowledge and resources to center SEL in our approach.”
In its commitment to continuous improvement, P4S proactively seeks ways to increase its ability to support its partners. To this end, the team regularly talks with participating OST providers about where the providers have the most impact.
“They offer homework help, yes, but youth-serving partners also support youth in a multitude of other areas,” Jaede says. “Since SEL skills are absolutely within their scope, we worked with the providers to explain to families why SEL-related activities—including the DESSA assessment—were important to pursue. This meant that we worked with the providers to deepen relationships with families, build trust, and develop understandings about the impact SEL has on their children.”
Mahan explains, “We connect with families on their vision for their children, speaking their language to show how SEL makes a difference for their child. For example, explaining that when a parent sees their child complete homework on time, they’re also seeing their child demonstrate self-management, a prosocial set of skills that is foundational to success in school and beyond.”
In collaboration with these workgroups, P4S has produced a robust set of resources that are readily available to the community. The materials are carefully crafted and curated, ensuring that equity-centered and assets-based perspectives are reinforced.
Mahan reiterates the importance of this focus, describing P4S efforts related to gathering data from the community and convening partners to analyze and workshop results. In this context, partners have called for specific workgroups that focus on issues that emerge.
“These are important opportunities to highlight what’s going on in the community and for us to learn as an organization. In collaboration with these workgroups, P4S has produced a robust bank of carefully crafted and curated resources which are readily available to the community. It’s important to connect with families on their vision for their children, speaking their language to show how SEL makes a difference for their child. For example, explaining that when a parent sees their child complete homework on time, they’re also seeing their child demonstrate self-management, a set of skills that is foundational to success in school and beyond,” continues Mahan.
Gilmore shared a glimpse of what it looks like when P4S and their partners engage family members by facilitating SEL roundtables. “We do activities alongside families, so they have a hands-on experience, learning the language we’re using in programs and schools. This is a multi-faceted approach to showing families what SEL looks like in action. Optimistic thinking may not be the word they’re using at home, but we help families identify what language they’re using that has the same meaning, effect, and impact.”
P4S continues to distinguish itself through its ability to bring a wide range of partners together, shaping an actionable, shared vision for equity. A key strategy is careful listening that leads to responsive programming aligned with community needs.
“Since the pandemic began, we have been laser-focused on asking our partners what their most pressing needs are,” says Mahan. “More than ever, their request has been for more materials and professional development on SEL. They’re committed to learning as much as they can and refining their ability to model social and emotional skills. One of the ways we’ve answered that call is by creating a monthly workgroup using EdSERT. This allows participants to practice using SEL in their own lives.”
The work emerging from the pandemic is another example of how P4S makes it possible for individuals and groups to come together and navigate crucial—and often difficult—conversations across many forms of difference. In so doing, the organization is carefully and measurably shaping how Central Ohio’s providers, educators, and funders are positively impacting outcomes for all youth, especially those who continue to be systemically disadvantaged.
About Aperture Education
Aperture Education has empowered over 8,000 schools and out-of-school time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social and emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. The Aperture System includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments, CASEL™-aligned intervention strategies, and robust reporting, all in one easy-to-use digital platform. This System enables education leaders to make strategic, data-based decisions about SEL within their organizations. Aperture has supported more than two million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus.