Additional developments in the educational trend to provide a full range of “whole child” services for urban school children include the inclusion of social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies in the classroom and throughout school sites at all grade levels. A group of eight urban districts are allowing researchers to study the effects of their district-wide social-emotional learning programs. The districts include Cleveland, Chicago, Sacramento, and Oakland and are part of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a project aimed at training educators to integrate SEL strategies into traditional classroom subjects such as history and science. Many of the districts serve predominantly free- and reduced-lunch students who often also come from crime-ridden and unstable neighborhoods. Cleveland’s program was inspired after a local school shooting took place and is unique in that it is data-driven; although CASEL claims that each district is putting its own unique spin on the SEL-based programs.
Cleveland’s district leaders used the results from an American Institute of Research survey developed specifically to examine levels of safety, emotional stability and support, and other school climate factors. Surveys were completed by students, staff, and parents at school sites. Schools that improve in their ratings in these areas are rewarded with small stipends for their teachers, and the program is supported by the teachers’ union. The program is in ongoing development, and has been implemented in various stages since 2008; currently, more attention is being given to further developing the secondary school programs, where students tend to be more reluctant to participate in embracing the SEL strategies, and might also be tougher judges. The districts received money to continue to develop their implementation of SEL strategies, and researchers have found that there is true fidelity in implementing these programs at district-wide levels, thus they can be considered effective. Overall, Cleveland’s program illustrates that providing SEL strategies can contribute to the effectiveness and success of not just single schools but also districts, since schools that are higher-rated on the survey are also seeing boosts in test scores and other achievement measures. Attendance improves, and disciplinary incidences drop as a result of programs such as Cleveland’s. As more urban districts accept that the majority of their students are not receiving adequate SEL support at home or through their communities, and that the lack of SEL skills and support negatively affects all aspects of school performance for inner city students, more urban schools could consider integrating SEL strategies on both schoolwide and districtwide levels.