Embedding Measurable Social and Emotional Learning in College and Career Readiness
Mr. De Angelo Rorie is Director of Youth Services at Washington DC’s United Planning Organization (UPO). His colleague, Ms. Paula Carroll, is Case Manager for the organization’s P.O.W.E.R. program for teens. P.O.W.E.R. stands for “Providing Opportunities With Educational Readiness.” Y4Y invited them to share how they’ve placed social and emotional learning at the center of their college and career readiness efforts, and we’re so glad they said yes! [Podcast]
Y4Y: Mr. Rorie, let’s start off by having you share a little about UPO, like your mission and the scope of your organization.
DR: In 2022, UPO will have been in existence for 60 years. Our mission is to Unite People With Opportunities, and we’re extremely proud of our six decades of service to DC residents. The breadth of UPO’s work is vast and diverse. We offer a multitude of services that include youth development, early childhood care and development, homelessness services, drug treatment, community advocacy, and job training and placement. Through these endeavors, we provide pathways to self-sufficiency.
Y4Y: Can you tell us about the P.O.W.E.R. program, like how long it’s been operating, who it serves and some of your success stories?
DR: P.O.W.E.R. was established in 2009 and was codeveloped by UPO’s former Youth Services Director, and now the agency’s Executive Director, Andrea Thomas. The P.O.W.E.R. program’s goal is to encourage and motivate youth living in Ward 8 DC to pursue a postsecondary education and to offer academic, cultural, and social enrichment as youth matriculate from middle school through high school. It’s also to provide life and family management skills to families of students enrolled in the program and to promote a sense of competence, self-worth and hope for the future.
In June 2015, the first P.O.W.E.R. cohort completed the program. Of that group, 90% of participants graduated high school on time and 75% of high school graduates enrolled in college that fall. This past August, P.O.W.E.R. staff organized a graduation celebration for the second cohort of participants, of which 80% enrolled in college or other postsecondary certification/training programs.
Y4Y: Pivoting to social and emotional learning, or SEL: If our listeners aren’t familiar with some of the basics of SEL, I encourage them to visit Y4Y’s course on the subject. I love that P.O.W.E.R. follows a curriculum that adds “goal-directed behavior, personal responsibility and optimistic thinking” to the core SEL competencies recognized by CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning), which are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Ms. Carroll, you’ve found numerous ways to imbed SEL into your college and career readiness endeavors in your P.O.W.E.R. program. Please share your favorites with us!
PC: Check in — this is a great way to help students transition. It is a way to focus on youth and make them feel included and gain a sense of belonging. My most recent check-in activity was using the weather as an emotion meter. Participants share how they are feeling with weather and feeling words. For example: I am sunny and excited, I am cloudy and tired.
Icebreaker— This is a great way to increase engagement and participation. I like icebreakers that allow the students to get up, interact with each other and get to know their peers. I would display icebreaker materials we’re using so students can see it, like large balls or dice, bright paper, etc. This sparks conversation and questioning as they look at the materials. Online icebreakers are also great, such as an indoor scavenger hunt. With this icebreaker, students get up and move around searching for items.
“Who am I?” activity — Students get to answer questions about themselves and how they think others see them. They then get to present to the group as a way of introducing themselves. I find that students like to talk about themselves, and this is one way to do it with some structure. This activity is used as part of the orientation phase of the program and then reviewed with students during one-on-one case management sessions.
Affirmation —Many times students are looking for ways to boost their self-esteem, and using positive affirmation is one way they can do that. Using positive quotes from people students can identify with increases their self-awareness and helps to build confidence. I usually mention the author of the quote and give some background information. Students are also given the opportunity to share their own affirmation, or you can choose affirmation quotes to reflect the students’ cultural and ethnic background, making this tool all the more relatable for the student.
Y4Y: I’m so glad you brought up the importance of cultural relevance around SEL, Ms. Carroll! The social and emotional wellness of teens is hardly a one-size-fits-all undertaking. I wonder if you’d mind expanding on how you achieve this in your P.O.W.E.R. program.
PC: It is important to make lessons and activities relevant to the participants you are working with. No matter what topic I am teaching, I try to bring a video, picture, music or quote that students may be able to identify with. When planning SEL activities, I check to see what is being celebrated during that time. For example, March is Women’s Heritage Month. During an SEL lesson, I would carve out some time for open discussion about women who are of influence to the students. I would research women from various different cultures and have them ready for a Q&A and discuss with the students. There was another time during our summer academy when I allowed students to take turns selecting music to listen to while doing a vision board project. With some rules on language, students were able to express themselves through the music selections.
We have discovered that participants looked forward to check-in during the pandemic. This was a time students got to talk about how they were feeling and coping with the pandemic. We reached out to families to see what their needs were via survey. Having internet connections and computer devices were major needs. UPO was able to provide P.O.W.E.R. participants and their families with tablets for online classes and program activities.
Y4Y: When it comes to broad implementation of SEL in out-of-school time, there are many tools and resources out there today, like the Y4Y professional development course I mentioned earlier, but I believe UPO stumbled onto a great data tracking device to ensure the effectiveness of your efforts. Mr. Rorie, would you mind sharing a little about this, and what you like best about it?
DR: The credit for our use of DESSA (or Devereux Student Strengths Assessment), goes to Paula. She discovered it a few years ago while attending an out-of-school time conference for service providers. At that time, we were in search of additional resources to better assess the emotional and mental development of our participants. Though there was success with cohort one, we noticed that they sometimes displayed counterproductive tendencies. This led to the realization of the importance of implementing, much earlier in the program cycle, strategies to improve certain competencies, namely self-management, social awareness, personal responsibility, goal-directed behavior and positive decision-making. The DESSA helped make that happen.
Y4Y: Well, it’s really gratifying to hear about P.O.W.E.R.’s great success, not just at implementing such a comprehensive SEL initiative, but at seeing the outcomes you hoped for when you set out! Can you both share any last words of wisdom or advice for new programs, or for existing programs that are increasing their focus on SEL initiatives?
DR: SEL is still a relatively new focus area, with more extensive research being conducted each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] talks about its importance in conjunction with healthy schools’ climates and promoting healthy behaviors. We can include a link from the CDC with this podcast that talks about this. Implementation should always be preceded by a formal assessment of your program and its alignment with desired goals. SEL competencies are broad enough to cover a spectrum of service categories (such as academics, sports, enrichment, etc.), and providers should do their proper research to find curricula that best fit their program model. Variety is good. Since both participants and staff get bored with monotony, it’s prudent to diversify how SEL is incorporated.
PC: As students return to school, they are seeking opportunities to express emotions, build confidence, be hopeful and get along with each other. SEL activities will help students build these skills and more. I like that there are many free resources available, including Y4Y, that can help in building up students’ SEL skills for life success.
De Angelo Rorie is a native Washingtonian and DC Public Schools graduate. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland. For more than 20 years Mr. Rorie has worked in the not-for-profit sector, focusing his attention on the development of out of school time programs and initiatives for primary, secondary, and post-secondary aged youth that increase academic performance, enhance critical thinking skills, and promote character and social growth. This November, he celebrated his 12-year anniversary at United Planning Organization.
Paula Carroll is a case manager working for the United Planning Organization (P.O.W.E.R.) program. Paula is a trained facilitator for the socio-emotional components of P.O.W.E.R. Paula’s trainings include Strength-Based Leadership, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Advance Case Management, Positive Youth Development, Life Coaching, and Parenting Journey.
Resource from CDC’s Healthy Schools page:
Social and Emotional Climate