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Lessons From City Year: How Near-Peer Mentors Can Foster SEL and Improve Student Outcomes

A simple fact: Near-peer mentors are able to connect with students in ways adults may not be able to.

The best student mentors provide encouragement, guidance, and support. They are a trustworthy and listening ear, and great at forming meaningful and nurturing relationships with their mentees. They also help students learn and develop the academic, social, and emotional skills needed for success.

Near-Peer Mentoring in Practice

City Year is a great example of how near-peer mentors can help students build social-emotional skills and achieve success. Their AmeriCorps near-peer mentors provide holistic supports to schools all over the country, and their trained teams work with students one-on-one or in small groups to build social-emotional skills like confidence, goal-setting, and relationship-building. They also work to enhance school climate, help students improve their academics, and run afterschool programs.

The Role of SEL Data

Social and emotional learning (SEL) data is a key component of City Year’s framework. Since 2011, City Year has used Aperture Education’s DESSA to support their work. According to Lisa Klane, City Year’s National Manager of Student Engagement Initiatives, “There is a very important connection point between the work we do and using the DESSA.” The organization started piloting the DESSA in 2011 and has since expanded its use of the DESSA to 28 cities, 326 schools, and 38,131 students (check out City Year’s practitioner and policymaker guide to learn more).  

A main way City Year uses the DESSA is through student progress monitoring. The near-peer mentors use the social-emotional data to identify student needs and align supports and interventions accordingly. DESSA data guides instructional decisions and intervention plans. It also helps the City Year and school teams leverage resources to support the student plans. DESSA data helps the teams evaluate student growth, whether the interventions are working, and what additional supports are needed. Klane states, “The DESSA helps us more effectively promote SEL.”

Watch our webinar on City Year and near peer mentors to learn more about how City Year uses the DESSA to foster SEL with students. Mentoring is critical to students’ social, emotional, and cognitive development, and near-peer mentors are ideal for connecting with students and providing effective support, encouragement, and advice.


About City Year

City Year was founded in 1988 as a national service program to unite young adults from diverse backgrounds for a demanding year of full-time community service. City Year has grown from 50 corps members in Boston to more than 3,000 members serving in 29 US cities, as well as in South Africa and the UK.

About Aperture Education

Aperture Education empowers over 3,000 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. This system enables education leaders can make strategic, data-based decisions about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments, CASEL-informed intervention strategies, and robust reporting, all in one easy-to-use digital platform. Aperture has supported over one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus.  

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